Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

General Election: Meet the five new NI faces at Westminster as nationalists outnumber unionists for first time

The five new MPs from Northern Ireland
The five new MPs from Northern Ireland

By our Political Staff

The Belfast Telegraph takes a look at the five new MPs who will be looking to make their mark in Westminster.

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Eastwood eyes SDLP growth after party secures biggest win

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SDLP leader Colum Eastwood is elected MP for Foyle (Niall Carson/PA)
 

Buoyed by a phenomenal win in Foyle, Colum Eastwood said he now has his eye on making the SDLP the biggest nationalist party in Northern Ireland.

He was speaking as he arrived back at his Foyle HQ after seizing the seat from Sinn Fein with an astounding 26,881 votes, some 17,000 more than his nearest rival, Elisha McCallion.

"We are absolutely over the moon about the win," he said. "It's the biggest vote anyone has ever got in this constituency and the biggest majority anyone has ever got. We are very proud of that fact, but we take nothing for granted.

"We know many people came across and voted for us who don't normally do that. And that is because they want politics here to work. They want our politicians to go to work. And we are prepared to do that."

Mr Eastwood said that his priorities were protecting Northern Ireland from the Brexit fallout and getting Stormont back up and running.

"We need to see the full shape of what has happened in Westminster," he said.

"We will be there to protect our interests. Very unfortunately we are in a situation now whereas the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to reject Boris and reject Brexit, we now have to find new ways of protecting ourselves and working with others across the political divide. We will do that.

"But we also have negotiations hopefully starting on Monday, and I would encourage the DUP and Sinn Fein to listen to what the people have said. They want us to get back to work. They want us to get on with it.

"They know how hard it is to fix the health service, but they want us to try."

Mr Eastwood, who is married to Rachael and has two daughters Maya (4) and Rosa (2), says it can be difficult juggling family life and the life of a politician, but that he has plenty of practice. "You have to have a very patient family and I am very lucky in the support that I have from Rachael and the girls. We work through it," he said.

Mr Eastwood says that he now has his eye firmly on growing the party and particularly on Assembly seats across Northern Ireland. He says the future is bright for his party.

Colum Eastwood

SDLP

Foyle

Won by: 17,170 votes

Brexit: Remain

Hanna's focus is on challenges ahead after huge victory

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SDLP South Belfast MP Claire Hanna congratulated by husband Donal Lyons. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
 

It was the morning after her crushing electoral victory in South Belfast and new MP Claire Hanna had a pressing engagement - attending her daughter's carol singing service.

The 39-year-old, an MLA since 2015, is well used to juggling her work commitments with helping to bring up her three daughters, aged seven, five and two.

But Ms Hanna, who yesterday admitted she was still attempting to process the scale of her victory over the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly, recognises the commute to her new job in Westminster will be a challenge - although it's a challenge she is ready to accept.

"I value time with the kids more than anything, but that is why the job is required at the moment," said Ms Hanna. "Not wanting to sound like a Pollyanna, but it is for their future."

The new MP campaigned as a Remain candidate, but knows well that the Tory victory likely will lead to an early exit from Europe.

"But we do not really know what shape that will be, including the level of access that we can have with the single market. That is still up for grabs," Ms Hanna said.

She added: "Obviously I am personally delighted and delighted for my team, but I do worry about the bigger picture, including more Tory cuts."

Ms Hanna won the seat with 27,079 votes, defeating her DUP rival by more than 15,000. It was the largest single vote count of all candidates in Northern Ireland.

While the new MP managed to sweep up most of the Sinn Fein and Green Party votes, she insists that does not explain a result that was "beyond even our wildest projections".

She collected 7,000 more votes than the combined total of the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Greens in the last General Election.

"It is very clear this was not about nationalist or unionist," she said, adding that the campaign received support across South Belfast, with every ballot box containing a substantial number of votes.

However, she did recognise the "courageous" decision by the other parties to stand aside. "It allowed a clear shift in the balance between Leave and Remain to be revealed," the new MP said.

Claire Hanna

SDLP

South Belfast

Won by: 15,401 votes

Brexit: Remain

Devoted Christian Lockhart has battled trolls on the path of politics

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The DUP's Carla Lockhart is returned as MP for Upper Bann and is pictured with her baby boy Charlie. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
 

She has been an MLA since 2016, but this was Carla Lockhart's first Westminster election.

The 34-year-old Ulster University business graduate was drafted in as the candidate after David Simpson, who had been the Upper Bann MP since 2005, announced he would not stand again following an extramarital affair.

Brought up in a strict Free Presbyterian home and very proud of her working class roots, she is a devoted Christian and you will find her sister Leanne, brother Andrew and Carla gospel-singing at local churches a couple of times a month as The Lockhart Family.

Married to quantity surveyor and part-time farmer Rodney Condell, she is mum to son Charlie, who at under a year old was the youngest supporter of any election candidate at yesterday's count in Magherafelt.

After her victory she thanked God, her predecessor and baby Charlie, saying: "I believe this will make me a better person, and it's for his future, for all our children and grandchildren going forward."

She was a member of the DUP's Young Democrats for years and while other kids had pictures of Peter Andre on their wall, she had election posters of Peter Robinson.

A former pupil of Lisfearty PS, Aughnacloy High School and then Armagh Tech (now part of the Southern Regional College), she became Craigavon's youngest ever mayor at 27 and attended more events than any of her predecessors. In a previous in-depth interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Carla revealed she had suffered the terrible trauma of miscarriage twice and spoke of the "horrendous pain and turmoil" she went through.

She has also repeatedly stood up to trolls, having been the victim of social media abuse - most recently in the run-up to the election - about her looks and personal appearance. When asked if politics is more difficult for women, she told this newspaper: "I'm not a feminist, but I think women have to work doubly hard to prove themselves.

"It can be difficult juggling a family life with politics but, if you're capable of doing the job, just get on with it."

*Carla Lockhart was contacted for interview yesterday, but could not be reached.

Carla Lockhart

DUP

Upper Bann

Won by: 8,210 votes

Brexit: Leave

Fresh face Finucane in North Belfast faces tough task as abstentionist

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Sinn Fein’s John Finucane celebrates with party leader Mary Lou McDonald, left, and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill after winning in the Belfast North constituency (Liam McBurney/PA)
 

The span of his political career may be short, but high profile lawyer John Finucane's rise within Sinn Fein has been nothing short of outstanding, and his election win cements his status as the party's rising star.

The 39-year-old's career as MP for North Belfast - in what has been a historic victory for Sinn Fein which saw the unseating of the DUP's Nigel Dodds - begins at the same age his father, human rights lawyer Pat Finucane, was killed by loyalist gunmen in their home in 1989.

John Finucane was aged just eight.

The son of a working-class father from the Falls and a middle-class Protestant mother from east Belfast, Mr Finucane has dedicated his adult years to campaigning for a public inquiry into his father's murder.

In 2017 he stood for the first time against Mr Dodds in North Belfast, and lost.

Undeterred, he switched to council politics, standing in the local elections earlier this year - which saw him winning a seat on Belfast City Council.

His career as a councillor had barely begun when he was appointed in May as the Lord Mayor of Belfast - a role which saw him pledge that he would represent everyone, including unionists.

Those words were swiftly put into practice when he welcomed Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in what was his first official mayoral engagement.

The appointment also saw the father-of-four juggle the demands of family life with mayoral duties along with representing boxer Carl Frampton in the courtroom in the sportsman's very public battle against former manager, Barry McGuigan.

In a previous interview he also spoke of managing his packed schedule to ensure he still found time for his beloved GAA club, playing goalkeeper and captain for Lamh Dhearg.

Now the Belfast man once again finds himself pledging to represent everyone in a constituency which until yesterday had been in the hands of Mr Dodds for nearly 18 years - a challenge he faces as an abstentionist MP.

*John Finucane was contacted for interview yesterday but could not be reached.

John Finucane

Sinn Fein

North Belfast

Won by: 1,943 votes

Brexit: Remain

Farry back to his old stomping ground after upsetting odds

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Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry secured his party’s return to the House of Commons following his victory in North Down over the DUP’s Alex Easton (Michael Cooper/PA)
 

Stephen Farry's victory in North Down is something of a homecoming for him. Back in 2007 he represented the area as mayor, later becoming its MLA.

Twelve years later he is now the constituency's MP - a triumph for Alliance which few political pundits would have been comfortable betting their money on until yesterday, with most predicting the seat was there for the DUP's taking.

Dr Farry's Westminster win is no mean feat - voters held his successor, the independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon, in huge affection. Like Lady Hermon, he is a firm Remainer, and during his campaign he was keen to stress their shared Brexit position.

A Queen's University graduate in Politics with a PhD in International Relations, Dr Farry is only the second Alliance politician to be elected to Westminster in its history.

A fitting development, perhaps, given the Newtownards man is arguably Alliance's second most high-profile name, behind leader Naomi Long.

During his tenure in the Executive, he served as minister for employment and learning, and gained widespread praise for capping tuition fees in September 2011. Following the 2016 Assembly elections, he took up positions on the Stormont Committee for the Economy and Business Committee, positions he held until the collapse of power-sharing in 2017.

His political work has also garnered global attention: in 2005 he was appointed an International Peace Scholar by the US Institute of Peace. The 48-year-old has always been a passionate advocate of Alliance's cross-community ethos, but he himself has been caught in the crossfire of Northern Ireland's green and orange politics.

In 2012, after fellow party members on Belfast City Council voted in favour of restricting the flying of the Union flag at City Hall to specific days throughout the year, his own constituency office in Bangor was the target of an attempted arson attack. But with Alliance's gains in this latest election, Dr Farry will be hoping it indicates potential for growing the 'middle ground' in local politics. *Stephen Farry was not available for an interview yesterday.

Stephen Farry

Alliance

North Down

Won by: 2,968 votes

Brexit: Remain

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