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Jeffrey Donaldson sweeps to seat for a sixth time

By John Mulgrew

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said unionism was "answering back" to a poor performance in March's Assembly elections after scoring a big victory in Lagan Valley.

Speaking following his win, Sir Jeffrey said that the DUP will have "significant influence" at Westminster, given the hung Parliament outcome.

An almost 20,000 majority over Ulster Unionist Robbie Butler gave Mr Donaldson the seat for the sixth time, with his vote up 11.7%, taking almost 60% of the share.

He said the outcome of the election across the UK will give his party "significant influence" at Westminster.

"We have worked very hard since March, we have been out on the doors and we have been getting people on to the register who had fallen off it," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We canvassed as many as we could. When we talked to people, there was a sense among unionist voters that they wanted to respond to what happened in March.

"Their way of doing that was to come in behind the DUP."

Speaking about the fallout from having a hung Parliament, with the Tories just short of an outright majority, Sir Jeffrey said it would have big implications for his party - and Northern Ireland.

"We will use that for the good of the whole of the United Kingdom, specifically for Northern Ireland, on issues like Brexit, we will be working to get the best deal for Northern Ireland," he added.

"We have had a good night... this is unionism answering back."

It was another union flag-waving night of jubilation for the party at the Eikon centre - part of the Balmoral Show site outside Sprucefield - as a raft of DUP MLAs and stalwarts joined Sir Jeffrey in one of the party's strongest ever general election wins.

Meanwhile, closest rival, Ulster Unionist Robbie Butler, a former firefighter and recently elected MLA, managed 7,533 votes, and marginally increased his vote share.

"The electorate have quite clearly given Jeffrey the backing," Mr Butler said. "But I still think that increasing the vote, it's still good.

"I'm new to politics and I think the message is right, to make Northern Ireland work and succeed.

"It still needs that modern voice... it's like a school day to me, it's a learning day. It's not necessarily a bad day for me as I had bad days in my old job with the fire service when you are dealing with peoples' lives.

"Government needs fixed, and I still think I can do that, and that my message is the right message."

Aaron McIntyre of the Alliance Party finished third, polling 4,996 votes.

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