Belfast Telegraph

Gavin Robinson confounds the pundits as he secures a comfortable majority

By Ivan Little

It had been billed as one of the most titanic struggles of the elections but in the end, in the shadow of the Harland and Wolff cranes, Gavin Robinson sank Naomi Long with an 8,000-plus majority.

The DUP man's runaway win confounded a number of bookies who had installed the Alliance leader as the odds-on favourite to regain the east Belfast seat that he wrested from her two years ago.

But Mr Robinson increased his majority from that election by 2,500 votes.

However, unlike 2015, Mr Robinson steered clear of the iceberg that was his acceptance speech.

In the Titanic Exhibition centre he had conciliatory words for Mrs Long, instead of the bitter ones of two years ago and he also took time to offer his condolences to her over the recent death of long-serving Alliance councillor Mervyn Jones.

Mr Robinson name-checked all of his rivals in the election for thanks, with the exception of Sinn Fein's Mairead O'Donnell adding: "I'm going to forget someone."

Mr Robinson's response after his victory was announced had been to say: "Wow. What a result."

Afterwards, Mr Robinson said that the increase in the turnout in east Belfast and in other constituencies showed that Sinn Fein's gains in the Assembly election had been a "wake-up call" for many Unionists who had voted for the DUP.

Commentators had predicted that the Ulster Unionists decision to throw Hazel Legge into the East Belfast fray could have harmed the DUP's chances.

But Mr Robinson said: "If you know anything about my position over the past couple of years, I never thought the pact with the UUP helped us.

"In fact it was a stick with which many people beat us with two years ago.

Even Mrs Long concurred about the scale of her rival's triumph. She admitted: "It is an incredible result that he has turned."

She later said she was disappointed but not downhearted.

"We have put on a few thousand votes compared to the Assembly election, so it wasn't the worst result we could have had.

"But from a Northern Ireland point of view it raises massive challenges for the next three weeks. The overall result has been a sectarian headcount and rewards the very parties that caused devolution to fail in the first place."

Mrs Long said that the warning to the electorate from the Loyalist Communities Council who have the support of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, not to vote for the Alliance Party had had an impact.

She added: "It didn't intimidate our people from coming out. If anything it motivated them, but it definitely increased the number of unionists who came out and voted DUP.

"And the DUP can thank the paramilitaries for that."

DUP leaders, past and present, were on hand to congratulate Mr Robinson.

His namesake and former First Minister Peter - who wa s the focus of intense media attention at the Titanic centre - had looked relaxed throughout the count as he engaged in number-crunching alongside his daughter Rebekah.

Current DUP leader Arlene Foster said she'd never had any doubt that Gavin Robinson would emerge victorious and she added the DUP's successes weren't only good for the party but also great for the Union.

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