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Unionism is left basking in a very healthy glow after excellent election

By Nelson McCausland

I enjoyed the general election campaign. After more than 30 years of door-knocking at election after election I can honestly say that it is generally an enjoyable experience, with some really interesting conversations and plenty of Belfast humour.

This time I managed to avoid all accidents, didn't fall down any steps and wasn't bitten by any dogs. Although at least one of our canvassers had a bad experience with a dog lurking behind a letterbox.

Of course, one of the best moments came with the tremendous success for Nigel Dodds in my own constituency of North Belfast.

It was a great result for North Belfast, in that the constituency will continue to have an MP who attends Westminster and who represents the interests of his constituents.

Not since 2001 have so many voters gone to the polls in North Belfast to vote for unionism. Each and every box across the constituency showed an increase in unionist turnout.

Meanwhile, in North Belfast, Sinn Fein were driven by desperation and ran a thoroughly sectarian campaign. They described a unionist pact as "sectarian", which is, of course, untrue.

Meanwhile, with no sense of shame and with no recognition of their own double standards, they ran a thoroughly sectarian campaign themselves.

They built their campaign around claims that there is a Roman Catholic majority in the constituency, ignoring the fact that the census figures included babies and toddlers, who will have to wait many years to vote.

They also assumed that every Roman Catholic is automatically a nationalist and will, therefore, vote for a nationalist or republican party. But, then, Sinn Fein never let the truth get in the way of their propaganda.

Moreover, the turnout across the constituency was roughly 65% and that was in unionist, nationalist and mixed areas.

Gone are the days when Sinn Fein could muster a much higher turnout in core republican areas and when there was a difference in unionist and nationalist turnouts.

In the end, and in spite of their sectarian strategy and their "army" of election workers, it didn't work for them and the Sinn Fein electoral project in North Belfast came crashing down.

But the successes for unionism came in many constituencies. As Nigel Dodds has observed, "If North Belfast was unionism's cake, the Fermanagh and South Tyrone result was the icing on the cake" and "Across Northern Ireland, nationalism has flatlined, with Sinn Fein showing the first real signs of an electoral wobble".

One of the most interesting results was in West Belfast, where Gerry Carroll, the People Before Profit candidate, came second with 6,798 votes, and pushed Alex Attwood of the SDLP into third place.

The Sinn Fein vote in their West Belfast heartland was down by 16.8%, a clear sign of disenchantment, and the SDLP vote was down by 6.5%.

This left Attwood on 9.8%, with the DUP candidate on 7.8% and the three unionist candidates polling more than 13%. There is a real chance of a unionist seat in West Belfast at the Assembly election next year.

Meawhile, there were no advances for Sinn Fein elsewhere. In spite of all the froth and bubble, Mairtin O Muilleoir fell far short in South Belfast and, in Foyle, the SDLP increased their majority over Sinn Fein.

It was also a bad night for Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice and the results reinforced the fact that it is very much a one-man band.

The seven TUV candidates polled a total of just 16,000 votes and their percentage vote was down in every constituency. It will be another year before we have to go to the polls again and over the next few days the parties will be reflecting and analysing, but unionism holds 11 of the 18 seats - almost two-thirds of the seats in Northern Ireland.

This was a good election - and a good day for Northern Ireland.

Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee

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