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McGuinness romps home in Mid-Ulster

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Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness with his wife Bernie at the count centre in Ballymena, Co Antrim

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness with his wife Bernie at the count centre in Ballymena, Co Antrim

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness with his wife Bernie at the count centre in Ballymena, Co Antrim

Martin McGuinness has predicted electoral gains for Sinn Fein as he romped to victory in his Mid-Ulster constituency.

The Deputy First Minister repeated his poll-topping success of the 2007 Assembly election, securing 8,957 first preference votes, while the DUP's Ian McCrea was also elected on the first count, bringing in 7,127 votes.

Mr McGuinness said voters want the leadership of Sinn Fein and the DUP, and added: "I'm satisfied that we're going to consolidate our position and maybe get some gains."

"There's a few opportunities there at the moment. If we do that, if we increase in any way, I'd be more than happy because quite clearly, even at this stage, it's obvious that the electorate have decided after four years of uninterrupted institutions that they want Sinn Fein and the DUP to be in leadership roles taking this process forward."

In Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Westminster MP Michelle Gildernew romped to the top of the poll at Omagh Leisure Complex - the Sinn Fein candidate's 9,110 votes were 2,084 ahead of her 2007 first preferences, an increase that can be squared with a virtually identical collapse of the SDLP vote.

Mrs Gildernew, who overtook Arlene Foster, the poll topper four years ago, said it was disappointing that more than 24 hours after the poll closed no candidate had been elected. Counting was suspended at midnight and resumes at 9am on Saturday.

The former enterprise minister, meanwhile, had slipped into third place as UUP leader Tom Elliott was also elected on the first count with 6,896 votes. Mrs Foster's vote reduced from 7,138 to 6,876.

Blasting the meandering proceedings, Mrs Foster said: "Considering we have been here since early morning there has to be a very clear look at what has gone wrong in Omagh today, as to why the count did not start until after 6.30 this evening."

The verification procedure was delayed while some ballot papers were "blow dried" after heavy rain seeped into several ballot boxes returned from polling stations which were briefly stored outside the count centre.

Mr Elliott suggested the time was ripe to consider electronic voting in a bid to speed up the process. "Obviously we need to look at some change to the system but talking to people on the doorstep I have been told it would take all the fun out of elections," he quipped. "I'm not so sure. It's been a really tiring period of time today whereas we could have had it over instantaneously. It is not something that needs to be rushed, but we need to look at the options."

PA