Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew retains Fermanagh after dramatic recounts
Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew retained her Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat by just four votes after a series of dramatic recounts.
Unionist unity candidate Rodney Connor was left devastated after falling agonisingly short of overturning the republican's 4,562 majority, particularly as the initial count had him winning by eight votes.
But after three recounts, the first giving Mrs Gildernew the edge by ten votes, then two and finally four, the tightest of contests was declared for Sinn Fein. However the matter may not end there, with Ulster Unionist and Democratic Unionist backed Mr Connor considering legal action.
After her victory was finally confirmed, Stormont`s Agriculture Minister said: "Since I was first elected as MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone in 2001 I have served every person in this constituency. I brought that positive record into this election campaign and people from right across the constituency have once again come out in massive numbers to support me and to support Sinn Fein."
When asked for her reaction to possible court proceedings, she said: "No matter what happens later, the fact that the odds were stacked against me, this has been a fantastic achievement and a historic occasion. Catholics, Protestant and Dissenter came out and voted for me. I`m very proud and humbled to have been given the mandate by the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. We`re very buoyant. I wouldn`t rule out the options that we'll probably be in court."
Mr Connor had apparently toppled Mrs Gildernew, who was first elected in 2001 by just 53 votes, when the original count was completed, 21,296 to 21,288 in the early hours of this morning.
The 41-year-old mother of three had initially arrived at the Omagh count centre after most of the other candidates and looked amazingly confident, but clearly stunned, she demanded a recount.
After its speedy conclusion there was a swing to Sinn Fein giving the party a 10-vote lead, prompting Connor`s request for a second recount. It reduced Gildernew`s lead to a two-vote margin, 21,300 21,298. After three-and-a-half hours of counting, proceedings were then suspended until 11am.
The Connor camp also expressed concerns, after claims that the ballot box verification process produced 36 ballot papers that were included in the count that could not be accounted for as issued in polling stations.
Subsequently, the third recount included a check for fraudulent ballots after Connor`s advisers raised four points with chief electoral officer, Douglas Bain, including their absence at the adjudication on doubtful votes and a demand that the count restart from scratch.