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McGuinness remembered as Molloy strengthens grip

By Nevin Farrell

Sinn Fein has made Mid Ulster its own in the last two decades since Martin McGuinness unseated the DUP's Willie McCrea in 1997, and that dominance continued with Francie Molloy returned.

Mr Molloy (66) was first elected in the constituency in 2013 after a by-election triggered by Mr McGuinness stepping down as MP due to the party's commitment to ending double-jobbing.

Mr Molloy held the seat comfortably in 2015, and he made it home again this time with ease at the Ballymena count centre, where he was cheered onto the platform by supporters after his victory was confirmed.

He polled 25,455 votes, up from the 19,935 he received in 2015.

This year was Mr Molloy's first election since becoming a pensioner, but he said he had no intention of pulling on his slippers just yet.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "I like the job and it is good to make representations on people's behalf, and that is what I have been doing for the last 40 years".

He said his priorities for Mid Ulster were to improve the infrastructure "to allow industry to grow", especially engineering, which he said was a big sector in the area. And he added Brexit was a key issue.

He said: "We have to ensure in the Brexit negotiations that those new communities that came in to work within the food sector, the agricultural sector and the engineering sector, that they are allowed to stay here, because they have brought new skills and have enhanced the area."

During his acceptance speech, Mr Molloy remembered the late Mr McGuinness's role in propelling the party into a position of power in Mid Ulster.

"I would like to thank the people of Mid Ulster for renewing the mandate that we have here, a mandate gained by Martin McGuinness 20 years ago, and we remember him tonight. This is the first election without Martin," he said.

In reference to Stormont, the Sinn Fein MP said the result was a mandate for negotiations "about building for the future, it is not about going back to the status quo".

Mr Molloy said his party wanted to build new power structures but it had to be on the "basis of respect", an end to austerity and on the basis of the "freedom of the people of Ireland".

He said his voters were rejecting Brexit and "Tory cuts".

The DUP's Keith Buchanan more than doubled the party's 2015 vote of 5,465 to 12,565.

The Ulster Unionist Party, represented by Mark Glasgow, saw its vote halved to 3,017.

The vote of the SDLP's Malachy Quinn was slightly down to 4,563, and Fay Watson of Alliance saw her tally rise to 1,094.

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