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Paul Maskey is in the mood for celebrating as Sinn Fein take centre stage

By Ivan Little

This West Side Story was only ever going to have one ending - a landslide victory for Sinn Fein's Paul Maskey who was preparing for another celebration, his 50th birthday today.

Mr Maskey, who succeeded Gerry Adams six years ago as West Belfast's MP, was returned with Sinn Fein's biggest ever vote - 27,107 - in the constituency.

And he told his jubilant supporters at the Titanic Exhibition Centre that the success marked a significant anniversary.

He said: "Maybe it's a fluke. Maybe it's not.

"But this day 34 years ago, Gerry Adams took this seat for the first time for Sinn Fein in West Belfast."

And Mr Maskey added that he was "delighted" to continue on in his footsteps.

He pledged to work for all the people of West Belfast who, he said, had come through a lot in recent years.

"Many people have tried to knock them down but the people of West Belfast have spoken and they have given me the mandate to continue to fight for them," he said.

"West Belfast is one of the finest constituencies and the people in it are the backbone of Ireland."

The DUP's Frank McCoubrey was second in the West Belfast poll with over 5,000 votes and from the podium he said: "What a night for unionism.

"Once again we've seen the unionist vote in West Belfast increase.

"We're knocking on the door. Bring on the next election."

People Before Profit candidate Gerry Carroll, who had impressive results in previous elections in West Belfast, came third with more than 4,000 votes and he said the overall election results across the water represented a "political earthquake".

He added "Left-wing politics are back on the agenda in a serious way like never before. We relish this new situation."

SDLP veteran Alex Attwood, who lost his Assembly seat in the March elections, was replaced by his brother Tim for the general election.

He came home in fourth place, polling just under 3,000 votes. Mr Attwood congratulated Mr Maskey on a "very, very, strong vote in West Belfast".

As expected, there was no fairytale ending for the Alliance Party's Sorcha Eastwood who wasn't at the election count because it clashed with another important date - her wedding.

Ms Eastwood and her husband Dale Shirlow cast their votes in Lisburn shortly after they exchanged vows in a nearby church. The couple went ahead with their wedding reception in an Enniskillen hotel where guests were able to watch the results on a big screen.

The new Mrs Shirlow didn't have big support from the electorate however - polling just 731 votes - but her unusual wedding pictures at the polling station appeared in newspapers here and in Britain.

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