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NI election: North Down - Chambers' feat proves rare good news story for UUP

It became obvious early yesterday afternoon that a voter turnout of 59% in North Down - nearly a 10% increase on the last time - wasn't going to result in any drama.

The constituency did, however, manage to deliver an unusual surprise for one Ulster Unionist candidate.

Despite the DUP's Alex Easton topping the poll again, this time with 8,304 first preference votes, the UUP's Alan Chambers received 7,151 votes, more than double the number he got just 10 months ago.

Alliance's Stephen Farry was confirmed as the third MLA, also after the first stage.

As the counting quickly progressed there soon came confirmation of a fourth seat.

This time it was Easton's DUP colleague Gordon Dunne, whose safe return to Stormont was ensured following the second stage, leaving only one seat remaining.

Reacting to an increase of 1,677 votes compared to his result last May, Mr Easton said: "I am over the Moon, very humbled and a wee bit shocked.

"The DUP vote is holding up very well and I believe we are going to be the largest party. This is our largest ever result in North Down and is very exciting."

First elected to the Assembly in 2003, Mr Easton insisted it was now time for everyone to take a deep breath and analyse the result.

"People want to see a government that works, parties who co-operate together and work together on the ground. They don't want any more nonsense and infighting," he said.

His victory was followed by Mr Chambers' election, who did more than enough to ensure his return as an MLA.

Mr Chambers said: "Nine months ago I was the new kid on the block - this is way beyond my wildest dreams.

"We had a small team of friends and family who worked really hard."

Reacting to bad news for Ulster Unionist candidates elsewhere, he commented: "I am very sad, not just on a professional level but on a human level.

"Mike (Nesbitt) didn't rule with an iron fist, there was consensus in this campaign."

Mr Chambers attributed the struggle faced by his Ulster Unionist colleague in neighbouring Strangford, Philip Smith, to a "huge surge" in the nationalist vote.

"How could I say Mike did me any harm? I just doubled my vote. I thought his message resonated on the doorsteps," he said.

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