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Ousted Naomi Long may now take up back room role with Alliance Party

By Noel McAdam

Published 09/05/2015

A defeated Naomi Long at the East Belfast count
A defeated Naomi Long at the East Belfast count
Willie McCrea

Ousted MP Naomi Long was among the main losers from the general election - but she could soon be back in action in the Assembly.

The party's deputy leader could be co-opted to join the Stormont team, perhaps if veteran Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy were to stand down from his Strangford seat.

There was also speculation that Mrs Long, who improved the party's performance in East Belfast in the face of a unionist pact, may take more of a backroom role to head up the party's strategy for next year's Assembly election.

Alliance leader David Ford made clear yesterday that he was putting no pressure on Mrs Long to make any early decisions.

He said he wanted her to continue to have a major role in the party. Mrs Long said on Facebook: "I just regret that all of our efforts were not enough to deliver the result we wanted" - and quoted another famously flame-haired woman, Scarlett O'Hara, played by actress Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind.

"For now, I'm going to rest and recharge for, in the words of another redhead, 'Tomorrow is another day'," she said.

The other 'losers' on the day included former Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew and DUP veteran the Rev William McCrea.

Mother-of-two Mrs Gildernew, who dramatically became MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone in 2001 and was returned as MP in 2005 and 2010, defiantly said she "won't be going anywhere".

Her majority was the smallest of all 650 Westminster seats, but Ulster Unionist victor Tom Elliott was viewed as an outsider, with one bookmaker offering odds of 2/5 on a Sinn Fein win in the run-up to polling day.

After Mrs Gildernew won by just four votes in 2010, Mr Elliott could yesterday point to a 530-vote majority and his 23,608 tally was around 2,300 more than the 21,300 polled by unionist unity candidate Rodney Connor in 2010.

The unionist pact to field just one candidate paid off for Mr Elliott.

The other big loser - and something of a surprise - was Rev William McCrea in South Antrim.

The UUP's Danny Kinahan, who's seen as being on the left of the party, took the seat to become a first-time MP.

It is not the first time the Rev McCrea has lost an election - previously being defeated in the seat by former Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside in 2001.

Mr Burnside only managed one term, with Mr McCrea winning the seat back in 2005 and holding it until this election.

The Free Presbyterian minister, who also has a successful career as a gospel recording artist, was previously MP for Mid Ulster between 1983 and 1997.

At the count he had to endure his main unionist rivals bursting into song - chanting 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow' for the Ulster Unionist Party's Danny Kinahan - which is normally a McCrea trademark.

Just a year ago he led an impromptu rendition of There'll Always Be An Ulster as the party's Diane Dodds was re-elected as an MEP in the European elections, but he was not singing yesterday.

His party leader Peter Robinson offered some crumbs of comfort.

"Obviously, I am disappointed that William did lose his seat. He is very resilient.

"He has come back from defeats in the past and I have no doubt he has a greater contribution still to make to the party and to the country," the First Minister said.

Belfast Telegraph

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