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Girvan hails 'a sea change' in unionism as he topples Kinahan

By Victoria Leonard

The DUP's Paul Girvan unseated Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan in one of the most hotly anticipated contests of the general election in Northern Ireland.

In a hotly contested race, Mr Kinahan lost out in a constituency that has traditionally gone back and forth between the two main unionist parties.

In 2015, he became the first UUP MP to be elected since 2005, with fewer than 1,000 votes separating the two parties.

This time, on the morning after his 26th wedding anniversary, he had little to celebrate politically as the DUP edged ahead, with Mr Girvan sealing a 3,208-vote majority over his rival.

Turnout was up by a significant 9% from 2015, with 43,292 votes cast, equivalent to 63.44%.

The arrival of DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Valley Leisure Centre an hour before the result was announced signalled the party's confidence that it was going to win back the constituency.

"I think it is going to be a good night for the DUP in East and South Antrim," she said.

"We fought this election on the importance of the Union to people and I think people really responded to that.

"It's going to be a good night for the Union, and of course that's really pleasing to me."

After he was declared the winner, Mr Girvan acknowledged that Mr Kinahan had fought a strong campaign.

"We believed right up until the very end that this was on a knife-edge and we believed that there was going to be a small handful of votes in it," he said.

"It could have gone either way."

Mr Girvan added that his victory was an endorsement of the party and its leadership.

"I think there is a sea change within the unionist people, that they see how difficult Northern Ireland could be when Sinn Fein became closer in the Assembly election, and as a consequence I know that our message resonated with them and they came back to us." Mr Girvan echoed the sentiments of party colleague Sammy Wilson, who was victorious in the neighbouring constituency of East Antrim, that a hung Parliament would not necessarily be a "bad thing" for the DUP.

"We might well be able to effect more influence in a tighter Westminster than we would have been previously if Theresa May had a massive majority and didn't require us," he said.

The new South Antrim MP said that Brexit would be a "key issue" for the DUP in negotiations going forward, and added that there was a "total imbalance" between the way investigations into the actions of the security forces during the Troubles were being carried out compared with "those who were involved in terrorism".

Former soldier Mr Kinahan was gracious in defeat.

But he hinted that he might stage a political comeback in the future.

"I haven't gone away, you know," he said. And referring to a recent burglary at his home, he added: "I'm going to have a little time on my hands.

"So, to the creep that stole my golf clubs and raided my wine - I was looking forward to enjoying that - can I have them back please?"

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