Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

Fermanagh & South Tyrone: Michelle Gildernew wins by a whisker

  • Eligible electorate: 72,848
  • Votes polled: 51,087
  • Valid votes: 50,762
  • Turnout: 70.13%
  • Majority: 57
Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew pictured with Michelle ONeill at the count centre in Omagh after winning the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew pictured with Michelle ONeill at the count centre in Omagh after winning the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew was returned as MP in Fermanagh & South Tyrone in a night of high drama which saw a recount that didn't end until after 7am on Friday.

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This was always going to be a two horse race between Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew and the Ulster Unionist's Tom Elliott and in the end it was the photo finish few saw coming.

This nail biting finish is reminiscent of the 2010 Westminster contest between Ms Gildernew and Rodney Connor who was the agreed Unionist candidate standing under the Independent banner when just four votes separated the two.

This time around the difference was 57 which was accepted with a handshake between Mr Elliott and Ms Gildernew.

Sinn Fein's leader in the North, Michelle O'Neill arrived in Omagh Count Centre in the early hours and was there to share in her party colleague's celebration.

Steve Aiken lent his support to Tom Elliott and was clearly downhearted that this one chance of securing a Westminster seat for the party just slipped away.

The outcome of the election in this constituency was always going to be a close call. Even with the DUP deciding not to field a candidate in Fermanagh & South Tyrone, in 2015, 2017 and this time around, giving Tom Elliott a clean run, the margin between him and Ms Gildernew was never wide.

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UUP Tom Elliott pictured at the count centre in Omagh. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.

Speaking from the podium after the declaration, a clearly relieved and jubilant, Michelle Gildernew said work to restore the Executive begins next week.

She added: "We have many issues relating to this constituency not least, relating to the news coming from London. We are likely to see the number of years we have to suffer Tory austerity.

"It now looks like things are going to happen that are out of our control but the people of Ireland are ready to take on a new challenge.

"We have a lot of work here to be done to make politics work and we won't be found wanting in that respect. We will be willing to negotiate."

A rather despondent and slightly emotional Tom Elliott said he knew the fight for Fermanagh & South Tyrone was always going to be tough.

He said: "This has been a long night and a long campaign but you expect that if you are in politics.

"It was always going to be on a knife edge in Fermanagh & South Tyrone and obviously I would have like to be on the other side of that margin but I am not, so we need to regroup now and reassess the situation as a party and where I am politically myself.

"That is not something I am going to take any decisions now because it is not right in the aftermath of something like this.

"I am not saying I am considering retiring but I am going to reassess the entire political scene."

The high drama was matched by the high turnout in this constituency. The total electorate was 72,848.

It would be easy to forget there were three other candidates contesting the election in Fermanagh & South Tyrone.

The SDLP fielded Adam Gannon who garnered a total of 3,446 votes, while Matthew Beaumont stood on the Alliance ticket and secured 2,650 votes.

Caroline Wheeler was an Independent candidate who vote went home having achieved 751 votes.

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