Belfast Telegraph

Dodds holds off republican tide to keep his seat

By Rebecca Black

Sinn Fein's attempt to seize North Belfast has failed for the fifth time following a strong performance by DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds.

The most starkly divided constituency in Northern Ireland remained so after this election, with party workers revealing that their tallies showed some boxes of votes were as high as 90% in favour of Mr Dodds, while others were 90% for Sinn Fein candidate John Finucane.

The pair were almost 20,000 votes ahead of the rest of the field, and remained neck and neck throughout most of the count.

Mr Dodds triumphed in the end, winning with an increased vote of 21,240 - up from 19,096 at the last general election in 2015.

However, Sinn Fein also had a record-breaking election with Mr Finucane, a political first-timer, winning 19,159 votes, just 2,081 behind Mr Dodds. The next closest contender was third-placed Alliance candidate Sam Nelson with 2,475 votes.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Dodds described his win as a "victory for unionism".

And he declared it a victory for North Belfast, because it had returned an MP who will take his seat.

"It is also a victory for representation, with the largest unionist vote in North Belfast for 20 years," Mr Dodds added.

"The DUP in this election has made history and there is more to come.

"This is a great night, not just for the DUP but for the Union we love."

Mr Dodds described his win as a "phenomenal result", adding that he was not daunted by a smaller majority. In 2015 he had won by a margin of 5,326, but this time his lead was pegged back to 2,081.

"I have had a similar majority before so it does not worry me in the slightest," Mr Dodds insisted.

"It would have been ludicrous if North Belfast had been left voiceless by the actions of Sinn Fein in not taking its seats at Westminster, and the collapse of the Executive and the Assembly."

Mr Finucane may have lost out, but he took heart in the size of the vote he had attracted on his first time standing in an election.

"This is my first political campaign," he pointed out.

"I am exceptionally proud to stand here having got the biggest mandate any republican has ever had in North Belfast, to have returned 19,000 votes and to have increased our vote."

Mr Finucane, the son of murdered solicitor Pat, had been a surprise choice as candidate. Previously Gerry Kelly had stood for Sinn Fein in the area.

Meanwhile, the Alliance Party had a good showing in a constituency it has not traditionally been strong in, with its candidate Mr Nelson beating the SDLP's Martin McAuley into fourth place.

Mr Nelson attracted 2,475 votes, while Mr McAuley, a party Press officer, polled 2,058.

The final two candidates running were Malachi O'Hara for the Green Party, who got 644 votes, and Gemma Weir for the Workers' Party, who got just 360 votes.

The turnout was 67.56%, well up on the 2015 figure of 59.2%.

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