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UUP hails capture of Sinn Fein seat

Published 08/05/2015

UUP candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott celebrates after his victory
UUP candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott celebrates after his victory

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott has defied the pundits to take Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

In a razor-edged contest the Orangeman and former UUP leader topped the poll with 23,608 votes -- more than 500 ahead of Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew.

The win was hailed as unionism's greatest victory in 10 years.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: "This is the best result unionism has had for over a decade.

"We have taken a seat off Sinn Fein. That is a signal which is going to go across the whole of Northern Ireland.

"Unionism is no longer on the back foot."

Mr Elliott was among four candidates agreed as part of a unionist pact.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had asked voters to back the well-known farmer who was standing under his UUP banner and smaller parties including the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and Ukip did not field candidates effectively giving Mr Elliott a clear run.

Following a declaration which came just after 5.30am, Mr Elliott said: "This was a combined effort. It just shows you what you can do when there is a combined effort."

The battle for Fermanagh South Tyrone -- a seat once held by hunger striker Bobby Sands -- has traditionally been tight.

In 2010 Ms Gildernew, a former Stormont agriculture minister, won by just four votes - a margin reduced to a single ballot paper after a review by the electoral courts.

This time round the mother of three from Dungannon polled 23,078 votes.

Dedicating his victory to those who fought in the Second World War, Mr Elliott was also cheered and applauded when he slammed Sinn Fein's abstentionist policy and vowed to "fight for welfare reform" and "taxation issues" at Westminster.

He added: "This constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, the most westerly constituency in the United Kingdom is not a green constituency.

"It doesn't belong to Bobby Sands, it belongs to the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone and that is who I intend to represent."

Sinn Fein's request for a re-count was rejected by the Deputy Returning Officer Martin Fox.

A defiant Mrs Gildernew, who was supported by senior party figures including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness vowed: "I am not going anywhere."

A mixture of boos and cheers echoed around Omagh Leisure Centre reception hall when she added: "In our hearts this seat will always be Bobby Sands'."

Commentators had predicted it would only ever be a two-way fight and unsurprisingly, support for the SDLP's John Coyle was squeezed. The 29-year-old, who claimed he was subjected to cyber bullying following a television debate, polled 2,732 votes.

Alliance candidate Hannah Su, who had admitted it was an uphill struggle received 658 votes while Green Party's Tanya Jones, who was running for the first time got 788 votes.

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