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South Antrim: DUP does the treble in one of unionism's real heartlands

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 07/05/2016

The DUP’s Paul Girvan is congratulated
The DUP’s Paul Girvan is congratulated
Alliance leader David Ford celebrates with Naomi Long and Paula Bradshaw

South Antrim was the scene of a major political upset in last year's Westminster election when Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan took the seat from DUP veteran Willie McCrea.

Yesterday it was the location of another scrap between the two dominant unionist parties.

On the UUP ticket was Steve Aiken, a former nuclear submarine commander who was hoping to torpedo the hopes of his red, white and blue rivals.

He was joined by colleagues Adrian Cochrane-Watson and Paul Michael.

But by early afternoon it was the DUP's Paul Girvan who was topping the poll.

He was just six votes shy of the 5,020 quota following the first count.

Thanks to transfers, he retained his Assembly seat following the second count.

Mr Girvan said: "I'm extremely happy to be re-elected and I do think that the vote that we have got in South Antrim is an endorsement and this is the way forward for the party.

"I just want to thank the people who have come out and given their support. Our DUP vote is up since 2011 and I just hope we can deliver all three candidates."

A tense and at times nervous atmosphere surrounded the centre as each count failed to elect further candidates.

Among the candidates was Alliance leader David Ford, who by the third count was trailing the DUP's Pam Cameron and Sinn Fein's Declan Kearney.

Hopeful his vote would be boosted by transfers, he remained defiant. "I'm absolutely confident I'll be retaining my seat," he said.

"I started off in seventh place every election I've fought in South Antrim and this is my fifth one. I have proved I am transfer-friendly and I've made my way up through the pack during the course of the counts. I'm confident that will be the case this time."

The slow pace of the count, however, led him to fear he would not know the outcome for maybe 24 hours.

But he didn't have to wait that long.

After more than seven hours confirmation came through that he and Mr Kearney had won seats.

"I got a respectable first preference vote and then added to it stage by stage, and as I said before, do it five times in a row," Mr Ford added.

"I was surprised I got to the quota even halfway through that stage.

"There is always a sense of relief.

"I think I wasn't able to do as much in the constituency over the last few years because the Department of Justice is a fairly demanding job, but I'm looking forward to having a slightly more relaxed time and a bit more time to go to events in South Antrim and remind them I'm still around."

Mr Kearney, who will replace Mitchel McLauglin, who was Assembly Speaker, said it was essential to have a republican representation in the constituency.

The UUP's hopes of winning another seat to add to Mr Aiken's immenent success were sunk at around 5.30pm when Mr Cochrane-Watson was eliminated.

He left the count centre before it was officially declared.

The DUP's Pamela Cameron - with 4,403 votes - finally passed the quota.

And late in the evening Mr Aiken and Trevor Clarke of the DUP filled the final two Stormont berths as the battle between the two main unionist parties came to its conclusion.

Belfast Telegraph

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