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Mid-Ulster: Sinn Fein dominate as all three candidates elected in first count

By Nevin Farrell

Published 07/05/2016

Sinn Fein’s Linda Dillon, Michelle O’Neill and Ian Milne celebrate after being elected for Mid Ulster, at the count in Ballymena
Sinn Fein’s Linda Dillon, Michelle O’Neill and Ian Milne celebrate after being elected for Mid Ulster, at the count in Ballymena

Sinn Fein showed it could comfortably survive in Mid-Ulster without Martin McGuinness.

The Deputy First Minister was elected in Mid-Ulster in 1998 but switched constituencies this year to run in his home area of Foyle.

Any fears that the loss of such a high-profile candidate would hit their vote were quickly discounted by Sinn Fein as all three of their candidates romped home in the first count in Ballymena's Seven Towers Leisure Centre yesterday.

Ian Milne (SF) topped the poll with Michelle O'Neill, the outgoing Stormont Agriculture Minister, and former Mid-Ulster District councillor Linda Dillon who replaced Martin McGuinness, also getting elected.

Veteran SDLP politician Patsy McGlone came second in the poll as four of the six seats were quickly snapped up.

Late last night it looked as if the Ulster Unionist Party's Sandra Overend would be elected along with one of the DUP duo of Willie McCrea and Keith Buchanan.

Amidst joyous Sinn Fein scenes, poll-topper Milne told the Belfast Telegraph: "I'm delighted personally but it is a team effort and we are delighted our three candidates have been elected." Michelle O'Neill said Sinn Fein stood 15 females out of their 39 candidates which she said showed they are "serious about electing women".

She added: "So I look forward to being joined by a lot more women before the end of the day."

O'Neill said she was delighted that another female MLA - Linda Dillon - is going to join their team.

Ms Dillon said: "I feel very privileged and honoured to have been voted in in Mid-Ulster."

She said: "I don't see myself as filling Martin's shoes necessarily, but delighted the party made that move and that it pays off for us in Foyle in terms of Martin getting the third seat.

"Martin's always been a great advocate for people coming through, particularly women, so he will be very proud that a woman has taken this seat."

The SDLP's Patsy McGlone said although the turnout reduced by 5% from the last election, the party's percentage share had gone up. He said: "To be elected with a surplus on the first count is very heartening.

"The constituency work, health issues, housing issues, education, planning, that's the type of stuff that gets you re-elected and that's where those first preferences were coming from right along.

"You don't want to be a face, you want to be someone who's there for people when they need you. Priority is to get stuck back into the work and continue doing what I have done for a number of years, continue with a good service to the electorate."

With it looking likely that Sandra Overend would grab a seat it remained to be seen which one of the DUP two would make it over the line.

Belfast Telegraph

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