Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

North Belfast: Historic night as John Finucane topples DUP stalwart Nigel Dodds

  • Eligible electorate: 72,225
  • Votes polled: 49,425
  • Valid votes: 49,037
  • Turnout: 68.43%
  • Majority: 1,943
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

It had been billed as the bitter battle for a DUP hotseat but in the end it was Sinn Fein who savoured the sweet taste of victory in North Belfast. ​

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The republican party's rising star John Finucane trumped the DUP veteran and deputy leader Nigel Dodds by just under 2,000 votes.

Mr Finucane won with 23,078 votes against his main opponent's 21,135 votes.

North Belfast was by far the seat the DUP could least afford to lose but one that Sinn Fein has long set its sights on.

Dodds versus Finucane was not a new contest as the pair clashed in the 2017 Westminster election and led to weeks of rising tensions and aggressive campaigning on the doorsteps.

With the SDLP, Greens, and Workers' Party having all pulled out of the constituency and the Ulster Unionists backing Dodds, the two main players had thrown everything at the campaign.

In the end it was Sinn Fein who powered through to victory, described by leader Mary Lou McDonald as "hugely significant".

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Dodds, who had held the seat since 2001 looked suitably glum when he arrived at the Titanic Exhibition Centre ahead of the declaration, flanked by his wife Diane and party leader Arlene Foster.

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Nigel Dodds during the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

While Mr Dodds remained tight-lipped as he entered the count centre, Mrs Foster said she was "very disappointed" for both North Belfast and Northern Ireland that they were "losing such a great advocate" to be replaced by someone "who isn't even going to go to Westminster and speak up".

After taking the seat, an emotional Mr Finucane said the result was "surreal and momentous" as he remembered his father Pat, who was murdered by the UDA 30 years ago.

He said: “On a night like tonight when it is all still very surreal I can’t help but think of my father and where we have come from not just as a family but as a society as well."

The newly elected MP added that his victory was a rejection of Brexit.

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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)

"I think this election is about the future of North Belfast. We saw the threat of Brexit and what that meant for the people of Belfast, we saw the threat to our economy, the threat to our children's futures and I think that message, that remain voice that was heard in 2016 was amplified beyond recognition again tonight," he said.

"North Belfast rejects Brexit, North Belfast is a Remain constituency, North Belfast wants a future as part of the European Union and I think that is hugely significant."

Mr Finucane added: "As an MP I pledge to you all tonight that I will work for every single person in this constituency whether you voted for me or not."

Referring to Sinn Fein's policy of not taking seats at Westminster, the outgoing MP Mr Dodds said he regretted that North Belfast will be "left unrepresented in the House of Commons at a very challenging time".

Mr Dodds also criticised his successor for not acknowledging any of the work his party have done for North Belfast while he was MP, including investment in jobs and mental health.

The defeated DUP man was hugged by Mrs Foster and other supporters as he left the stage and soon afterwards, the count centre.

Also in the running was another former Belfast Lord Mayor, Alliance's Nuala McAllister, who topped the poll in the Castle ward in May's council election and finished with 4,824 votes in the Westminster poll.

Ms McAllister said she was pleased to see her party take an almost 10% share of the vote, an increase of 4.4% on 2017 when the then candidate Sam Nelson finished on 2,475 votes.

"I'm very proud that the Alliance vote has held up in North Belfast," she said.

"We offered people that clear, alternative and progressive choice and we are very grateful to those loyal Alliance supporters who came out. But also we are grateful to our new supporters in particular the Remain Unionists and those who couldn't vote for the SDLP but who came to us as well.​

"Across the board we have seen people coming out and using their voice, especially those who don't want Brexit."​

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