Belfast Telegraph

25 hours to return same three politicians to European Parliament

By Rebecca Black

After a marathon 25-hour count, Northern Ireland returned the same three parties to the European Parliament as it elected five years ago.

Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson, Diane Dodds of the DUP and the UUP's Jim Nicholson were the chosen three when counting finished at 5.56pm yesterday.

Laborious totalling of the 626,125 valid votes started at 9am on Monday, but the first to be elected, Mrs Anderson, was not announced until 6.30pm. The count went on until almost 1am with no one else elected.

The lengthy tally resumed yesterday at 9am, but it wasn't until the afternoon before Mrs Dodds exceeded the quota and was deemed elected.

This was followed by an extended battle between Mr Nicholson and SDLP candidate Alex Attwood for the final seat.

The declaration took place at 5.56pm, when the three outgoing MEPs were declared elected after an exhausting counting marathon that was branded a "shambles".

Overall, the unionist vote was at its highest since 1986 while the nationalist vote had fallen.

Mrs Anderson, who topped the poll with 159,813 first preference votes, said the result was an endorsement of her party despite recent headlines involving party leader Gerry Adams.

"It was a long 24 hours before I could make my acceptance speech," she said.

"To top the poll in the manner I did was way beyond my expectations. I would have been more than delighted if I had received the same support that Sinn Fein had in the north with 151,000 votes in the council election.

"I had some concern I might not reach that, but to get almost 160,000 people out to support Sinn Fein and our part in the peace process – that's the endorsement I have received.

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"People were very concerned about what happened to Gerry Adams because there was a real sense of ownership of this peace process. People saw this as an attack on democracy and an attack on the peace process, and I think what people have done, north, south, east and west of Ireland, is given those in the establishment – who were potentially trying to undermine Sinn Fein and undermine the peace process – the answer that they needed and deserved."

When asked if she was disappointed the SDLP had not made it across the line, Mrs Anderson said that if her party had believed there were two nationalist seats to be gained, they would have run two candidates of their own.

Mr Attwood responded sharply: "Sinn Fein are a self-serving party, that is the character of the party. They look after their own interests first and foremost."

He said that if his own vote and the SDLP vote had come out in greater numbers then "things might have been different in the last few minutes".

"There is a historical trend now developing of unionism outpolling nationalism, and nationalism has to begin to realise that. If you want to shape politics on our island in a profoundly positive way – through the politics of the SDLP – you have to come out and vote for the SDLP," he said.

The DUP and Alliance were the only parties who saw their percentage share of the vote rise.

Mrs Dodds said she was delighted and humbled by the result.

She was elected on the seventh count when she exceeded the quota of 156,532 votes.

The returning MEP said she would fight to secure the best deal for Northern Ireland in Europe

Mr Nicholson was elected at the final stage. He did not reach the quota.

In his acceptance speech he said he was delighted to have become the longest-serving MEP ever from Northern Ireland.

"I don't think any of us will forget these two days," he said. "They have been long, and a bit of a white-knuckle ride at times, but it has been a very good election."

Ten candidates had been competing for the three seats in Europe. Ukip performed the best of the smaller parties, with almost 25,000 first preference votes.

FACTFILE

  • Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson topped the European poll with 159,813 votes and was elected on the first count. The Sinn Fein vote was around 25%, similar to 2009.
  • Diane Dodds (DUP) was elected at the seventh stage. The DUP vote was up almost 3% on 2009.
  • Jim Nicholson (UUP) was elected at the final stage. The UUP vote was down 4%.

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