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Fermanagh/South Tyrone: Foster hails a job well done while Gildernew returns to the front line

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 07/05/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster and party colleague Lord Morrow celebrate with supporters after being elected in Fermanagh/South Tyrone
First Minister Arlene Foster and party colleague Lord Morrow celebrate with supporters after being elected in Fermanagh/South Tyrone

At one point she wasn't even on the ballot paper, but Michelle Gildernew was the first Sinn Fein MLA elected in Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

The former MP and Agriculture Minister was returned on the fourth count in Omagh last night.

It marked a return to front-line politics for the 46-year-old - almost a year to the day after she lost her Westminster seat.

Earlier, Arlene Foster led a DUP one-two, securing re-election on the first count after polling more than 8,800 votes.

The Ulster Unionists were set to retain their seat, albeit Rosemary Barton looked likely to take it ahead of sitting MLA Alastair Patterson.

Sinn Fein's Phil Flanagan lost his seat.

This constituency always delivers a story, and the return of Ms Gildernew is perhaps the biggest talking point this time.

She was selected then deselected by Sinn Fein, before being reselected in February.

And she was the third MLA - and first from her party - to be elected.

Ms Gildernew declined to comment as she left the count, opting to wait until the fate of her two colleagues, Sean Lynch and John Feely, was settled.

Last night it looked as though both would be elected, ensuring Sinn Fein held on to their three seats.

SDLP candidate Richie McPhillips' hopes of retaking the seat the party lost in 2011 were diminishing.

Earlier, in her first election as DUP leader, Mrs Foster polled 8,801 first preference votes.

Maurice Morrow was returned on the second count.

Mrs Foster said: "I think we can safely say that in Fermanagh/South Tyrone it has been a job well done."

She added: "We've seen a swing of about 7.5% towards the DUP and we just want to say thank-you to the electorate of Fermanagh/South Tyrone for putting their faith in us to build a stronger, safer Northern Ireland. We will certainly continue to represent them as best we can in Stormont."

Lord Morrow said: "We've never had a vote like this before. This is new territory for us.

"I don't want to underestimate the role that Arlene Foster, our leader, has played in all of this.

"She is a tremendous leader - she is the future."

But there was disappointment for two sitting MLAs.

Mr Patterson, co-opted in January, looked as if he would fail to secure re-election with Mrs Barton taking the UUP seat.

And Mr Flanagan bowed out after five incident-filled years at Stormont.

The news came on the day he celebrated his eighth wedding anniversary. His wife Joni was at the count centre as the news was delivered.

Mr Flanagan admitted Sinn Fein's decision to run four candidates had been a risky strategy, but said it did not necessarily mark the end of his political career. He said: "Who knows what will happen? I'll probably go on the dole."

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