NI election: West Belfast complete - New dawn for Sinn Fein as Flynn tops the poll while Attwood exits
A new rising star was hailed by Sinn Fein in West Belfast yesterday as an SDLP veteran was rejected by the voters after a 31-year political career.
Orlaithi Flynn was the first of the Assembly's 90 new MLAs to be returned yesterday at the Titanic Exhibition Centre count.
There was joy for the 28-year-old daughter of a veteran west Belfast republican as she topped the poll with a total of 6,918 first preference votes, surpassing the quota of 6,725.
Only a short time later, Alex Attwood, one of the SDLP's longest serving politicians, was eliminated from the race, though he put on a brave face.
He said: "Obviously it's a blow, but my real disappointment is for the SDLP and for the people of West Belfast who have no (SDLP) representatives in the Assembly."
Mr Attwood, who narrowly held on to win in West Belfast after a last-seat dogfight 10 months ago, said the defeat this year spelled the end of his political ambitions.
He said he felt as if he had let the SDLP down, but party leader, Colum Eastwood, said Mr Attwood had served the party, and the people within his community, magnificently.
Mr Attwood said: "Although it's unlikely that I will ever stand for election again, I will still support the values and the policies of the SDLP. And the party are by no means finished."
Referring to the former First Minister and the RHI scandal, Mr Attwood would only say that the way Arlene Foster 'spoke to people like him was not the way that anybody should be spoken to.'
For Ms Flynn, it was a stunning electoral debut, as were the victories of other young women in the party.
"I am overjoyed," said Ms Flynn, with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams by her side.
"I am very humbled that so many people in West Belfast put their trust and their faith in me and in the party.
"We fought a good campaign on our principles of integrity, respect and equality."
She said that there could be no return to the status quo at Stormont.
Ms Flynn, who was co-opted to replace Jennifer McCann when she stepped down as an MLA, graduated from Queen's University, Belfast, with a Masters in Irish politics.
She worked as a political adviser to former MLAs Rosie McCorley, Alex Maskey and Sue Ramsey, and Sinn Fein insiders said she was seen as an invaluable strategist within the party. Three other Sinn Fein candidates were elected in West Belfast along with Ms Flynn: Alex Maskey (7,036), Fra McCann (7,067) and Pat Sheehan (5,903).
Last year, Gerry Carroll of the People Before Profit Alliance scored a remarkable victory, topping the West Belfast poll.
His votes this time around were down, but he was eventually elected to the Assembly with a total of 6,725 votes.
Mr Carroll said his election success in 2016 was like 'storming the Winter Palace', but he added: "This campaign felt more like Custer's last stand because the establishment parties in West Belfast threw a hell of a lot of resources against People Before Profit."
DUP candidate Frank McCoubrey was eliminated after transfers saw him finish sixth with a total of 4,521.
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