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NI election: North Belfast - DUP veteran McCausland left looking to life beyond politics

By Rebecca Black

There was a major blow for the DUP in North Belfast with the loss of former Culture Minister Nelson McCausland.

It came after a long and uncertain wait for candidates when none reached the quota following stage after stage of counts.

The DUP's Paula Bradley was first elected at stage 6 at around 9pm following the elimination of Mr McCausland.

She said she was delighted to be returned but very disappointed that he would not be rejoining her in the Assembly.

"He is a massive loss. He is a friend, we all work together very closely as a team in North Belfast along with our MP Nigel Dodds and a great team of councillors," she said.

Ms Bradley said her vote was up and insisted that her message at the doorsteps had resonated strongly with the electorate.

"I spoke with thousands of people, I knocked every door in my section of the constituency and I'm delighted the people turned out and put their trust in me," she added.

At the first count Sinn Fein candidate Gerry Kelly topped the poll, closely followed by party colleague Caral Ni Chuilin, however neither reached the quota at that stage to be deemed elected.

Progress was slow throughout the day and evening as a number of candidates were eliminated, with not enough transfers to bring any in the front of the pack across the line. However, there was drama at stage 5 when Mr McCausland was eliminated.

He had been an MLA since 2003 and served as Culture Minister as well as Social Development Minister at Stormont.

He said he was disappointed, but rallied in the knowledge that the DUP had increased its vote in the constituency.

"Unfortunately it did not translate into seats. I am disappointed to a degree, obviously. There was a bigger increase in the vote on the nationalist side. There will be an opportunity to have a review of what happened and how it came about," he said.

"There is life beyond politics, there are lots of other things I want to do."

Mr McCausland did not rule out a return to politics, refusing to directly answer that question as he left the Titanic Exhibition Centre where the Belfast counts took place shortly after the announcement that ended his Assembly career.

"I am quite relaxed about the whole thing. There are a lot of things to think about. I won't make any predictions," he added.

PUP candidate Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston said she was delighted by her performance despite disappointment among her supporters when she was excluded at stage three of the count. She told the Belfast Telegraph she had increased her party's vote in the constituency by almost 800 since last year, when leader Billy Hutchinson stood.

"Watch out for me in the future. We are slowly building our vote. I know some of our supporters may feel disappointed but we will get there," she said.

At stage five Ulster Unionist candidate Robert Foster was excluded, while Sinn Fein's Mr Kelly and SDLP candidate Nichola Mallon were last night believed to be safe bets for seats two and three.

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