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NI election: Upper Bann - Surprise seat for Kelly, but Dobson misses out to Beattie

By Allan Preston

In Upper Bann, it was all about the comeback of the SDLP's Dolores Kelly. Having calculated things were going her way early on in the count, she was visibly delighted long before the official announcement just before 10pm.

"I'm probably the least likely person that thought I would be back here 10 months on from the last election," she said.

Elected at the sixth stage with a final tally of 9,053 votes, ahead of the 8,592 quota, she also took time to commiserate with the UUP's Jo-Anne Dobson who was eliminated at the fourth stage with 5,969 votes. Overall, 52,174 voters turned out - 62.54% of the constituency's electorate.

There were tears of joy for the DUP's Carla Lockhart as she topped the poll for the second year in a row, with 9,140 first preference votes.

"Get that declaration made" was the pre-announcement exclamation as the DUP candidate waited excitedly for the result.

She admitted the RHI scandal had put the pressure on during her campaign.

"It has been a brutal election, there's no point in saying anything different. People were cross and angry but I think today demonstrated there's no desire to hand this country into the hands of nationalism," she said.

Her running mate and newcomer, Jonathan Buckley, also commanded a strong share of the vote. At 25, he's the youngest MLA elected, just days younger than Sinn Fein's Megan Fearon.

Taking 7,745 first preference votes, he was elected at the fourth stage with a final total of 8,764 votes.

"People realised this election wasn't about RHI," he said. "This election was politically motivated. The RHI debacle was handled very badly, not only within out own party but right across the political body. I believe there should have been an investigation and not an election."

Sinn Fein man John O'Dowd's seat seemed guaranteed from the starting line with 8,220 first preference votes to his name. The transfers came slowly but surely to see him elected on the fifth stage with 8,593 votes overall.

Tellingly, the UUP's Jo-Anne Dobson was nowhere to be seen at the count centre at any stage, with her party colleague Doug Beattie surprising some by polling ahead. She was excluded at the fourth stage with 5,969 votes.

Doug Beattie of the UUP was returned with 5,467 first preference votes, only minutes after his party leader, Mike Nesbitt, announced his resignation as party leader.

"It's a mixed emotion in a number of ways," he said. "First because Jo-Anne Dobson didn't get elected, she's been a fantastic servant for Upper Bann and the Ulster Unionist party. It's also mixed emotions for Mike Nesbitt leaving as leader. He brought me into the party, he's been a superb colleague and friend."

He put the UUP's poor performance overall down to the "fear game" tactics of the DUP.

"Some of the words that came out of the DUP leader before the election mobilized the nationalist vote. That lack of respect and sneering way of talking to people mobilised the nationalist vote and it's leading unionism into an absolute cul-de-sac," he said.

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