Belfast Telegraph

Little Pengelly's comeback unseats former SDLP leader

By Rebecca Black

"If Carlsberg did elections..." joked former DUP leader Peter Robinson as he celebrated his former special adviser Emma Little Pengelly's victory in South Belfast.

In the DUP's most successful general election in Belfast, winning three of the four seats, Mr Robinson was jubilant after coming out of retirement to run Ms Little Pengelly's campaign.

Despite losing her Assembly seat three months ago, Ms Little Pengelly made a sensational comeback, defeating SDLP veteran Alasdair McDonnell to become the first unionist MP for South Belfast since Martin Smyth (UUP) more than a decade ago.

But while the DUP was celebrating, just metres away the SDLP camp was devastated. The result sealed a calamitous night for the party as it lost its final Westminster seat.

Mr McDonnell had always been at risk, having held a majority of just 906 at the 2015 general election.

The constituency, one of the most diverse in Northern Ireland, had been billed as a four-horse race.

But as counting got under way at the Titanic Exhibition Centre late on Thursday night it became clear that it was between the DUP and SDLP.

The new MP said she felt "humbled" by the result and paid tribute to Mr McDonnell before thanking her campaign team and all those who voted for her.

She later tweeted: "Simply put - South Belfast, I am incredibly humbled by your vote & support. You have put your trust in me, I will not let you down."

Mr McDonnell was accompanied by his daughter at the platform as he conceded to Ms Little Pengelly.

"It's never an easy occasion, an occasion like this," he said. "Emma, I wish you well and look forward to be able to work with you for the good of the constituency moving forward. I welcome her very positive remarks that she will attempt to represent all of us in South Belfast."

Meanwhile, there was a blow for Sinn Fein in the constituency as its candidate Mairtin O Muilleoir was beaten into fourth place by Alliance's Paula Bradshaw.

Ms Bradshaw finished with 7,946 votes, ahead of Mr O Muilleoir with 7,143.

However, an undeterred Mr O Muilleoir vowed to continue pushing to build his vote in the constituency, joking to his supporters at the early morning finish: "You can take the rest of the night off as it is 3am, but our aim is to take South Belfast for Sinn Fein."

The smaller parties suffered huge losses compared to their performances at the Assembly election in March.

No unionist pact was agreed in South Belfast. However, it does appear that some Ulster Unionists may have voted tactically, lending their votes to the DUP to secure a unionist victory.

The Ulster Unionist candidate Michael Henderson finished at the close of counting with just 1,527 - well below the 3,863 votes he received in March.

Likewise, while talk of an "anti-Brexit pact" came to naught, Alliance pleas in election literature for Green voters to lend it support to help it win also appear to have hit its vote. The Greens' Clare Bailey finished with 2,241 votes, around half of the 4,247 she received in March when she became the fifth and final MLA elected for the constituency.

And the final candidate in the field, Clare Salier of the Conservatives, received just 246 votes.

Belfast Telegraph


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