Belfast Telegraph

Brady's bunch of ballots see him returned with ease

By Allan Preston

In a cavernous barn most recently used for the Balmoral Show, the Newry and Armagh count at the Eikon Exhibition Centre was finally declared at 3.49am.

Sinn Fein's Mickey Brady was expected to hold his seat comfortably. Indeed, his arrival at the count shortly after midnight had resembled a victory lap as he shook hands calmly with supporters in front of a quick scramble of TV cameras.

Mr Brady finished this time on 25,666 votes, an increase of 5,178 from the 2015 general election. He also surpassed the DUP candidate William Irwin's final tally by around 12,500.

Shortly before the official announcement Mr Brady stood with party colleague Chris Hazzard, the new South Down MP.

"It's a great day for Sinn Fein in the six counties and I'm obviously very pleased for the results in the other constituencies as well," he said.

"I think the abstentionism issue hasn't been an issue.

"The size of the vote today has shown it's not an issue; people want politicians to sort things out here. Westminster is not necessarily the place to do that.

"Decisions will be made in Dublin, Brussels and the Assembly, and that's the way it should be."

In all, 54,908 ballots were cast out of 78,266 eligible voters, with a turnout of 68.87%.

Speaking just before midnight, Mr Irwin said he felt confident he would poll well.

He acknowledged the absence of UUP veteran Danny Kennedy boosted his votes, before adding: "I think our vote will increase for different reasons - I work very hard on the ground as an MLA."

In the end, Mr Irwin finished with 13,177, around 3,000 fewer than Mr Kennedy polled in 2015. The SDLP's Justin McNulty returned a final vote of 9,055, a drop of 7.2% from his Westminster performance in 2015.

His speech was understandably subdued - moments earlier in the same venue party colleague Margaret Ritchie lost her seat to Mr Hazzard.

Addressing his campaign team, he said: "Thank you so much for your massive efforts, with limited resource and finance you've done yourselves proud.

"To everyone who came out and voted in such large numbers, well done and thank you."

Ulster Unionist candidate Sam Nicholson finished with 4,425 votes. He was joined at the count by his MEP father Jim, who served as MP for Newry and Armagh from 1983-84.

On this occasion, however, there was no reason to celebrate as the Ulster Unionist vote share had dropped by a quarter.

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