Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

East Belfast: DUP's Gavin Robinson survives strong Alliance challenge

  • Eligible electorate: 66,245
  • Votes polled: 42,619
  • Valid votes: 42,445
  • Turnout: 64.34%
  • Majority: 1,819‬

By Eimear McGovern

Alliance leader Naomi Long has been pipped to the post in East Belfast by Gavin Robinson after falling shy of his majority by almost 2,000 votes.

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The DUP candidate was re-elected with a significantly decreased majority of 1,819 votes, down from 8,474 in 2017. Voter turnout had dropped by 3.5% since the last general election.

There was a conciliatory atmosphere as Mrs Long arrived straight from the Bangor count centre to muted applause in Belfast in time for the results for her constituency.

She had been celebrating with the party’s newest MP Stephen Farry on his victory in North Down, spawning a new hashtag #alliancesurge.

It was that victory the party leader turned to when she was surrounded by media and pundits asking for her verdict on Thursday’s proceedings, the day she also celebrated her birthday.

“We’re hearing that we polled very, very well. We closed the gap massively on the DUP but I don’t think it’s going to be ours this time,” she said, putting a positive spin on her failed challenge against Mr Robinson, who first swiped the East Belfast seat from her in 2015.

Mr Robinson was quick to single out his opponents for praise in the speech, following on from his acceptance speech in 2015 which was seen by many as ungrateful at the time. He said on Thursday he was looking forward to getting to know his other challenger, the UUP’s Carl McClean, who received 2,516 votes.

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“I think all of us have had a campaign that has been positive in East Belfast from our three parties. We haven’t bumped into each other but we stood strong for our own messages and for what we believe in.

“Our message of getting Northern Ireland moving again has resonated. That is our challenge in Stormont, in Westminster and across this province. Let’s get Northern Ireland moving again, let’s do it.”

More than 42,000 people cast their vote on Thursday, representing a turnout of 64.1% of those eligible.

Gavin Robinson with his wife Lindsey and party leader Arlene Foster pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Mr Robinson was the only DUP candidate in the Belfast constituencies to retain his seat, after Emma Little Pengelly and Nigel Dodds suffered upsets. “Can I say how proud it has been for me to stand alongside and to work alongside two of the finest representatives Belfast has had over the past number of years,” he said.

“It has been a huge privilege and I will miss them. Westminster will miss them.”

Many were left wondering whether the DUP would miss their influence over Westminster’s Conservative government as Boris Johnson enjoyed success across the water.

“We’ll stand up for Northern Ireland, we’ll stand by our principles and put forward our manifesto and use our influence… for the benefit of Northern Ireland,” said Mr Robinson, rubbishing claims the DUP were worried about their future relationship with the Conservatives in the House of Commons.

“A majority will have a lot of strength when it comes to negotiating with the European Union. At this stage, we think the agreement isn’t where it needs to be. There’s an awful lot to play for,” he said.

Naomi Long used the opportunity to call on Northern Ireland’s parties to “get back around the table together” ahead of their meeting on Monday at Stormont.

“Those of us who are pro-Remain, we have got to get back around the table and make sure we don’t end up as collateral damage with a Conservative Brexit.

“The story of this election is that people want to see the Assembly up and running, they want to see people working together and they want to see delivery,” she said.

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