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East Antrim: Three unionist candidates returned as Hilditch, Beggs and Lyons fill seats

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 07/05/2016

East Antrim: David Hilditch, DUP
East Antrim: David Hilditch, DUP

East Antrim was the first constituency to elect an MLA yesterday - the DUP's David Hilditch.

However, that is where the haste ended as it took several hours before any other candidates could book their taxis for Stormont.

As veteran politician Sammy Wilson ended his Assembly career to focus on Westminster, the question was could the dominant party energise the electorate to vote back three DUP politicians?

The DUP had won the lion's share of votes five years ago - more than 13,000, just less than half of the first preference votes. But last night Mr Wilson admitted they would "struggle" to win all three seats facing opposition from amongst others Ukip's Noel Jordan.

The ex-Finance Minister, who had attracted a powerful personal vote, was not on the ballot ticket after the end to 'double jobbing' but he was there in person at the Valley Leisure Centre to watch over the count.

The former mayor of Carrickfergus, Mr Hilditch powered past the quota of 4,631 with 5,906 votes. He joked: "It's not like me to come first!"

But despite the initial smiles he said there was a feeling of nervousness as it would be "a long day".

"I think, like every candidate out there, you do have a nervousness and a trepidation about what is ahead," he said.

"We have stayed in front of other people but it is down to the nitty gritty of the transfer process and that can change quickly. It is all to play for." With 15 candidates challenging for the six seats, the UUP's Roy Beggs, although hopeful he would retain his seat after getting 3,848 first preference votes, acknowledged it would be a long day watching the count. Halfway through the day he, like many others, grabbed a coffee to keep energy levels up.

"I hope that I will be elected with further transfers. The DUP vote is down at least 10% in East Antrim.

"We were hoping to do even better I have to say but I think the fear factor came in and that has definitely played a part in the campaign.

"It will be very tight. It is in the hands of the electorate and we just have to respect their decisions," Mr Beggs said.

But just before 9pm the DUP's Gordon Lyons and Mr Beggs were both elected, filling three of the six seats. The count resumes this morning.

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