NI Election: East Belfast - Newton is in by skin of his teeth as Alliance are left cock-a-hoop
Embattled Stormont Speaker Robin Newton won a fierce battle for his political life early this morning in East Belfast.The DUP veteran, who faced a no confidence motion over his handling of Assembly debates on the RHI scandal, was reeling after the shakedown of results left him facing a major struggle for the fifth seat against his party colleague David Douglas.
But in the end he just managed to outpoll DUP rival Mr Douglas.
The result was declared shortly after 1am.
Mr Newton (71) faced more controversy in the Assembly late last year and he apologised for not declaring his links to community organisation Charter NI, whose controversial chief executive Dee Stitt is linked to the North Down UDA.
Alliance leader Naomi Long topped the poll in East Belfast and her colleague Chris Lyttle was returned on transfers as other candidates were eliminated.
Mrs Long said she was ecstatic with her party’s performance in the constituency where in 2010 she beat former DUP leader Peter Robinson in a Westminster election. She added: “East Belfast was a particularly positive result for us, probably the best that we have had in an Assembly election. But our vote share has increased elsewhere so it has been a really good day for us.
“But what really matters is what happens now.
“People voted in the hope that there would be some kind of change and that we would be able to move forward.
“That is what we in the Alliance Party are going to be focused on now and delivering to ensure that change happens.”
Mr Lyttle said the party had been given a strong mandate in the Assembly.
He added that the party had a “really mobilised membership” and had the potential to grow outside their strongholds.
The third candidate elected in East Belfast late last night was the Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen, a former soldier who lost his legs in a bomb attack in Afghanistan.
Joanne Bunting, who replaced Mr Robinson on the DUP ticket last year, later retained her seat, following on from topping the poll in 2016.
The PUP’s Dr John Kyle improved his vote on last year.
He turned his fire on the DUP, accusing them of running a scare campaign.
“The DUP’s strategy of creating fear was very effective and influenced a lot of people in East Belfast in the way that they voted, to my loss,” Dr Kyle said.
The turnout was 63% — up six points on last year.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson was at the count, and rejected claims that party leader Arlene Foster might be forced to quit. He said the DUP were firmly behind her.