Big two still rule the roost after Northern Ireland election
The shape of the new Northern Ireland Assembly came slowly into focus over the weekend, confirming the status quo with the DUP and Sinn Fein continuing to dominate.
But despite the snail’s pace count, the results produced a series of dramas across the constituencies
What a difference a year makes... Peter Robinson bounced back to top the poll, with more than 9,000 votes. Just a year ago the red, white and blue rosette brigade of the DUP was a more sombre bunch when Mr Robinson lost his Westminster seat to the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long.
The Alliance Party gained seats for two new candidates — Castlereagh councillor Judith Cochrane and Harvard graduate Chris Lyttle.
Ulster Unionist MLA Michael Copeland did well to keep his seat. Dawn Purvis, the former PUP leader, who ran as an Independent, failed to secure enough votes.
The Alliance Party’s Anna Lo topped the poll, receiving 6,390 votes, up from 3,289 in 2007. She remains the first candidate of Chinese descent ever to be returned in an election in the UK or Ireland.
SDLP veteran Dr Alasdair McDonnell, the MP for the area, was elected on the second count. His running mate Conall McDevitt was elected on the fifth count alongside Jimmy Spratt (DUP), Alex Maskey (SF) and outgoing Ulster Unionist Health Minister Michael McGimpsey who just squeezed in.
The Ulster Unionist veteran MLA Fred Cobain suffered defeat. DUP newcomer, Paula Bradley, the Newtownabbey mayor, said she was delighted at becoming a first time Assembly member.
Ms Bradley joined party colleagues Nelson McCausland and William Humphrey to give the DUP three seats in the deeply divided constituency.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly topped the poll. Mr Kelly’s party colleague Caral Ni Chuilin also retained her seat, as did the SDLP’s veteran campaigner, Alban Maginness.
Sinn Fein dominated with all five candidates comfortably returned.
The only change of face is former hunger striker, Pat Sheehan, who was contesting his first election after being co-opted into the seat last year when Gerry Adams stood down for his successful bid to represent Louth in the Dail.
It looked like the DUP’s Brian Kingston was going to repeat Diane Dodds’ 2003 triumph and steal the sixth seat from the republicans. In the end it wasn’t to be. Sheehan was elected along with Sinn Fein’s Sue Ramsey.
The DUP was the clear winner here, where sitting DUP Assembly member, Alex Easton, topped the poll. Fellow MLA Peter Weir and newcomer Gordon Dunne made it a triumphant 1-2-3 for the DUP.
Alliance MLA Dr Stephen Farry took the fourth seat. Alan McFarland — a UUP Assembly member for 12 years — quit the party as a result of the Conservative alliance and ran as an Independent against his former running mate, Leslie Cree. However, Cree took the seat and was followed into the Assembly by the only Green Party victor, Steven Agnew.
Cheers erupted as former Environment Minister, the DUP’s Edwin Poots, topped the poll with 7,329 votes, closely followed by colleagues Jonathan Craig, Paul Givan and first-time candidate Brenda Hale.
The DUP surge came as little surprise in the stronghold constituency, with the remaining two seats taken by the UUP’s Basil McCrea and Alliance candidate, Trevor Lunn. On the nationalist side, there were rumblings that last year’s boundary changes had decimated the votes for Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
The DUP’s Michelle McIIveen proved that Strangford voters favour DUP women, by topping the poll with 4,573 votes.
She was joined by two DUP colleagues, Jonathan Bell and Simon Hamilton. Political veteran Kieran McCarthy of the Alliance Party was returned for his fourth term as MLA.
Former UTV news anchorman and one-time Victims’ Commissioner, Mike Nesbitt, took the fourth seat. The last Strangford seat was a slog between the SDLP’s Joe Boyle and sitting UUP MLA, David McNarry, with the latter clinching it.
The SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie topped the poll with 8,506 first preference votes.
Deputy UUP leader John McCallister increased his percentage share of the first preference vote by almost 1%. Outgoing Education Minister, Sinn Fein’s Caitriona Ruane, kept her seat and her party colleague, Willie Clarke, was re-elected at the fifth count. Jim Wells, whose arm was in a sling from breaking his collar bone while attempting to remove election posters, also kept his seat.
NEWRY & ARMAGH
All six 2007 victors were triumphant once more. The UUP's Danny Kennedy came second to Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy, who topped the poll. The SDLP's Thomas O'Hanlon put up a fight for the sixth seat, but transfers from Sinn Fein’s Cathal Boylan put running mate Mickey Brady comfortably ahead and O'Hanlon conceded defeat at around 1.45am on Saturday.
“I will survive,” tweeted the SDLP's answer to Gloria Gaynor, dismissing forecasts that she could lose her seat. Survive she did. Sitting MLA, Dolores Kelly received 4,846 first preferences.
Sinn Fein’s John O'Dowd topped the poll and overall there was no change on parties and their share of seats in the constituency.
The DUP's Paul Girvan topped the poll with 4,844 votes followed by Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin with 4,662 votes. Taking the third seat was the DUP's Trevor Clarke.
But a combination of the DUP's clean sweep and winning crucial transfer votes came at the cost of nationalist representation and the political scalp of the SDLP's only candidate in South Antrim, Tommy Burns. Alliance leader David Ford just failed to win his seat back in the first count by 41 votes but was elected with 14.2% of the vote in the second count.
The election of the TUV leader Jim Allister slightly dented DUP jubilation. But Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party was still celebrating as they picked up three seats. Paul Frew topped the poll. Mervyn Storey was also elected on the first count with 6,083 votes and David McIlveen was declared later.
While the boundary changes had no impact on Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay, who was elected in the first count, the SDLP’s Declan O’Loan was a high profile casualty of the elections.
The UUP managed to hold on to its seat, with Robin Swann being elected in the final count.
Republicans made a breakthrough in East Antrim, with Sinn Fein winning its first seat in the constituency through Oliver McMullan. Sinn Fein took the sixth seat at the expense of the second Ulster Unionist candidate, Rodney McCune. Former DUP Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, topped the poll with 7,181 votes.
Party colleague David Hilditch had a comfortable election, as did Roy Beggs, who is now the only Ulster Unionist MLA in east Antrim.
A third DUP candidate, Alastair Ross was returned on the sixth count.
The DUP’s ambitious plan to have four candidates elected failed and Alliance candidate Stewart Dickson took a seat.
Deputy First minister Martin McGuinness stormed to victory in the constituency, with 8,957 votes. Sinn Fein held on to their three existing seats. Within unionism, both the DUP's Ian McCrea and Ulster Unionist, Sandra Overend, successfully held off a challenge from the TUV's Walter Millar.
Mrs Overend is the daughter of outgoing Assemblyman Billy Armstrong.
Sinn Fein’s dominance in the west continued — topping the poll and winning three seats in Fermanagh/South Tyrone. Michelle Gildernew stormed home with 9,110 first preference votes, while 2007 poll-topper Arlene Foster was pushed into third behind Tom Elliott. The two remaining seats went to Sinn Fein newcomers, Phil Flanagan and Sean Lynch.
Veteran SDLP politician Tommy Gallagher — an MLA since 1998 — fell just 62 votes short and was eliminated at the final count.
A marathon count which dragged on to 8pm on Saturday proved well worth the wait for Joe Byrne (SDLP) and Ross Hussey (UUP).
Both were elected on the fifth count without reaching the quota. The DUP’s Tom Buchanan was also returned to Stormont. Earlier Sinn Fein had retained the first three seats, with Barry McElduff topping the poll for the second consecutive Assembly election. He will be joined at Stormont by Pat Doherty and newcomer Michaela Boyle.
While the atmosphere at the count centre was cordial, old divisions clearly still exist, with only two elected MLAs, John Dallat of the SDLP and Independent David McClarty representing the middle ground, abutted by three DUP and one Sinn Fein MLA.
The DUP’s Gregory Campbell unsurprisingly topped the poll once again and proclaimed “God is great” in his victory speech.
In complete contrast, MLA Cathal Ó hOisín, a first-time MLA, recalled the “sacrifice” of the hunger strikers, noting that the elections took place on the 30th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands.
There were many new faces fighting for the Foyle constituency, but as expected the DUP’s William Hay topped the poll and along with Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson was elected in the first count.
The new kids on the block will be the SDLP’s Mark H Durkan — nephew of the former party leader — and Colum Eastwood, who has enjoyed a phenomenal year as mayor. The SDLP’s Pat Ramsey and Sinn Fein’s Raymond McCartney were elected on the seventh count. Belfast Telegraph columnist and campaigner, Eamonn McCann, who stood as a candidate for the People Before Profit Alliance, failed to win a seat.
As the dust settles on a rather lacklustre Assembly election the political landscape dominated by the big two parties — DUP and Sinn Fein — remains largely unchanged.