Belfast Telegraph

Michelle Gildernew says anti-Brexit vote clinched it

By Cate McCurry

The rematch between the UUP’s Tom Elliott and Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew came down to the wire once again.

In the end it was Ms Gildernew who clinched enough votes to win back the Westminster seat she lost to the Ulster Unionist in 2015.

Every vote matters in this constituency and Ms Gildernew took the seat comfortably — by Fermanagh standards — by 875 votes after she polled 25,230.

The Sinn Fein delegation made the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat one of its key battle sites and following its gains in the Assembly elections earlier this year, it was quietly confident of winning back the historic seat.

As it became clear that Ms Gildernew was inching ahead of her rival, Mr Elliott left the Omagh count centre before it was officially declared.

Unusually, her victory speech did not include any reference to IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, who once famously held the seat.

Instead, she said she would do  “no gloating” in her win.

She said: “We have a massive job to do, we have to ensure that the people’s voices are heard.

“This is a vote against Brexit.

“We need to get back to the Assembly as quickly as possible and use our increased mandate for the negotiations with a strengthened hand and we need to get back to business in Belfast.” She added that she was “proud and humbled” to be part of the Sinn Fein team.

The result came after six hours of counting in what was always going to be a nail-biting outcome. Mr Elliott received 24,355 votes. Throughout the six-week campaign, Mr Elliott spoke of the need for representation, something he said Mrs Gildernew could not provide due to Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy, a point robustly rejected by the Sinn Fein candidate.

But hitching his wagon to all shades of unionism, including the Orange Order, resulted in accusations of sectarianism from some of the other candidates, particularly Mrs Gildernew.

Meanwhile, of the other candidates who stood in the constituency, the SDLP’s Mary Garrity polled 2,587 — slightly down from the election result two years ago.

Tanya Jones of the Green Party almost halved her vote after receiving 423 this year, while Noreen Campbell of the Alliance Party picked up 886 votes.

Speaking hours before the declaration, Ms Garrity said it was an “inevitable race” between the two main runners.

“I put my name in the hat to offer a genuine alternative, but politics is very polarised, it’s very green and orange and I hope some day that moves on.

“I don’t think today will be that day and if it isn’t, there is no hope for our children, our roads, our health service and all the things that matter.

“There has been a huge increase in proxy votes and a big campaign on the ground (by Sinn Fein).

“There has been a poor picture painted by both main runners to scaremonger the other side.”

The total number of votes polled was 43,675 which represents 68.23% of the constituency — an increase of over 8% compared to the 2015 general election.

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