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Cock-a-hoop DUP consigns March misery to the dustbin

By Noel McAdam

After the disappointment of the Assembly election in March, the DUP can barely believe its good fortune in the general election.

Its position as the dominant unionist party has been firmly consolidated, and it is poised to play a key role at Westminster.

The 290,316 votes cast for DUP candidates - around one in three of the total - exceeded even the party's best expectations.

Arlene Foster's team had expected a bounce back after the resurgence of Sinn Fein in the Stormont poll in March.

But they were cock-a-hoop at the extent of the performance.

"Did you ever think you would see the day when a third of the vote would be for the DUP?" a senior party official asked yesterday.

"People may have wanted just to lend us their vote this time to send a message. That could be.

"But when someone votes for you even once, you can try to get them to keep on doing so. You can build on it."

Mrs Foster yesterday publicly thanked her director of elections, former Finance and Health Minister Simon Hamilton, who was absent from the party's Press conference in the Stormont Hotel. It was his characterisation of the unexpected and unecessary general election called by Theresa May as a "wake-up call" for unionism that seems to have resonated with unionist voters.

Many who would not usually vote DUP were prepared to lend their support this time - even in some cases, to borrow Edwin Poots' phrase about working with republicans in government, if they had to "hold their noses".

But having voluntarily removed itself from the Fermanagh and South Tyrone battlefield to give losing Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott a better chance to hold on to his seat, the DUP went after the UUP's other standard-bearer Danny Kinahan in South Antrim with relish.

The election on the other hand was a baptism of fire for recently-appointed Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann, who replaced Mike Nesbitt.

Despite the loss of his party's two MPs, Mr Swann is under no pressure to consider standing down given that he hardly had time to work up a head of steam.

Nonetheless, it was a bitter night for the UUP, which now has its position as only the fourth largest party with 83,260 votes underpinned.

The result also leaves the DUP in pole position to regain seats in at least six Stormont constituencies and re-establish something like its old lead over Sinn Fein.

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