Belfast Telegraph

McElduff takes win with almost double the votes of closest rival

By Cate McCurry

To many, it seemed an inevitable outcome that Sinn Fein's Barry McElduff would take West Tyrone - despite this being his first run at Westminster.

Republican stalwart Pat Doherty has held the seat for the party since 2001, but announced earlier this year he was stepping down as an MP.

His successor was elected with 22,060 votes - a massive increase of more than 5,000 on Mr Doherty's 2015 result.

The Stormont MLA benefited from West Tyrone's high turnout (68.23%), with 43,675 people going to the polls.

He was more than 10,000 votes ahead of closest rival, the DUP's Tom Buchanan, who picked up 11,718.

After five hours of counting at Omagh Leisure Centre, the result was finally declared to a rapturous reaction from Sinn Fein supporters.

Throughout the counting Mr Doherty could be seen keeping a close eye on the stages, and was at Mr McElduff's side when he was announced as the area's new MP.

Supported by his wife and two children, Mr McElduff, who has been an MLA in the constituency, said he was strongly opposed to Brexit.

"People are saying that the train has left the station, and we are defying that and saying that is absolutely not the case. We are holding out and we want special status," he said.

"I believe in the next five years we will continue to make major progress along that road to (Irish unity).

"The people who are determined to see the anti-Brexit message carried know that the message is going to be delivered in Dublin and Brussels and Westminster."

He went on to thank the party's canvassers who helped secure his success.

Almost 70% of the electorate took to the polls in West Tyrone - a significant increase from the 60% who voted in the 2015 general election.

Mr Buchanan brought out the party's core vote in the general election but it was not enough, as demographics dictate that the constituency is overwhelmingly nationalist.

The SDLP took a massive hit right across Northern Ireland and in West Tyrone it was no different after Daniel McCrossan failed to increase the party's vote.

He picked up 5,635 ballots, a decline of more than 800 compared to two years ago.

Other candidates also fared badly, including Alicia Clarke for the Ulster Unionists, who halved her party's vote after polling 2,253.

Her predecessor Ross Hussey stepped down from politics earlier this year, citing health problems.

Stephen Donnelly from the Alliance Party picked up a respectable 1,000 votes - an increase from his previous performance.

Ciaran McClean from the Green Party failed to match his 2015 performance of 780 votes, picking up 427 this time round.

Cannabis campaigner Barry Brown, a one-time SDLP council candidate, polled 393 votes in an area that has the highest pro-cannabis legalisation vote in Northern Ireland. In 2015 he picked up 528 votes.

The night was slow to progress and it wasn't until after 3.30am that the new Westminster representative was officially declared.

In the hours leading up to the declaration, many of the candidates' supporters attended the count and helped fill the leisure centre's small canteen while all eyes remained on the television screen for other election results.

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