Belfast Telegraph

Holding seat is a piece of cake for Margaret Ritchie

By John Mulgrew

Margaret Ritchie certainly had her cake and ate it after another strong performance in South Down.

The former SDLP leader retained her seat and was presented with a lavish cake, frosted in her party's colours, in celebration.

Her majority was squeezed, mainly due to the swathes of unionist competition, as she took 18,077 votes, which saw her overall vote fall by just over 2,500.

But arriving at Lagan Valley LeisurePlex as counting was already well under way - and well into the wee small hours - there was no doubt in her confidence about a return to Westminster.

As the clock hit 4am, and following a candidate huddle with election staff, Ms Ritchie made her win known - before making her way from the ground floor counting room to the upstairs election-branded backdrop to confirm victory.

Ms Ritchie said she was "delighted" to be returned with a "solid majority" for her second term as MP.

Her Sinn Fein rival, Chris Hazzard - although remaining positive with his 12,186 votes - landed less than his party predecessor, Caitriona Ruane, in 2010.

"We knew given that turnout was going to be down that there would be issues, but [I'm happy] as a first-time candidate to come into the field and to hold my own with the same vote, given that Margaret, a seasoned politician, has lost over 2,500 votes," he said.

Despite only reaching 3,486 votes, all eyes were on the DUP's Jim Wells - who stepped down as Health Minister following a furore over his claims that children brought up by gay parents were more likely to be abused. It was a hoarse-voiced and fragile-looking Mr Wells that took to the stage after finishing fourth. He had been expected to top the unionist vote.

Mr Wells applauded winning MP MsRitchie and said it had been an "eventful election for me personally". He said his hustings comment furore was "overblown by the media, not by the ordinary people on the ground".

He had avoided speaking to broadcasters and reporters earlier in the night, after arriving at the count - donning a grey suit and short-sleeve white shirt.

And there was a much more subdued atmosphere, after the less than subtle jubilation of the DUP for Jeffrey Donaldson's win at the same count centre a handful of hours earlier.

There was also a less heavy presence of DUP supporters following the Lagan Valley announcement - with the gaggle of MLAs and other rosette-clad representatives leaving the Lisburn leisure centre before the second count of the night.

Ulster Unionist Harold McKee took the biggest unionist chunk of the night, finishing third, on 3,964 votes.

Belfast Telegraph


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