West Belfast: Sinn Fein's Paul Maskey returned with 14,672 votes to spare
- Eligible electorate: 65,644
- Votes polled: 38,988
- Valid votes: 38,782
- Turnout: 59.39%
- Majority: 14,494
Paul Maskey has said the positive campaign run by Sinn Fein in West Belfast is the reason he has been re-elected as an MP.
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Mr Maskey, who secured a majority of 14,672 votes over his nearest challenger Gerry Carroll, was hugged and congratulated by his family including his brother Alex before he took to the podium.
“I want to thank the proud people of West Belfast for supporting Sinn Fein and supporting myself again,” he said, in the first official declaration at the Belfast count centre on Thursday evening.
“We fought a very positive campaign and we received support for that.”
He had 6,980 votes less than in 2017’s election, with voter turnout down by 6%. People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll came in second place, with 6,194 votes polled.
His supporters wore t-shirts supporting the industrial action currently being taken by nurses and healthcare staff.
“We had a very very good result in this election,” he said. “Parties through everything at us, it was a dirty tricks campaign but our vote in West Belfast went up by 2,000,” he said.
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Mr Maskey painted a picture of his plans for his constituency. “We’re building West Belfast into a very positive place to work, to live, to socialise and to bring up your family.
“West Belfast is changing – it’s got the lowest unemployment rate it’s had for a number of years. It has the highest education attainment rate it has for generations.
“It looks like the Tories are going into a massive majority. This election in Belfast sends a clear message to the Tories that we’re here and we’re not going away and our voice is going to be heard loud and clear. It has been heard in England, in London, in America and on this island and we will make sure our voice is heard.”
His victory came the same day a young man was shot in the legs in a paramilitary style attack near a west Belfast polling station.
Unlike last year, Sinn Fein candidate Mr Maskey didn’t beat his own record of being the candidate in the only Northern Ireland constituency in which the outgoing MP's majority is higher than the number of non-voters.
However, there was an atmosphere of inevitability in the count centre, with very little reason for most of his challengers to believe they’d come close to ending his long run in West Belfast. “I want to pay tribute to the other candidates,” said Mr Maskey.
“Standing for election is never easy and there is only one winner.”
Those candidates milling around the count centre said they were there to work on brand recognition.
Paul Doherty of the SDLP said: “For me as a new candidate in West Belfast in the last six months it’s about building up a new SDLP.
“We’ve had some great representation down the years. This is the first time for me to come on the scene and build on that going forward,” he said. Mr Doherty finished in fourth place after Frank McCoubrey of the DUP.
Monica Digney of the republican pro-life party Aontu was at the count centre with party leader Peadar Toibin.
“I’m just so relieved it’s over,” she said.
“We’re not expecting to top any polls. We’re looking to maximise the vote and if we do that, I will be thrilled. We got a great reaction of the doors. There were so many areas we didn’t get around to because we’re only a small party.”
Both Ms Digney and DonnaMarie Higgins of the Alliance Party lost their £500 deposits after failing to win 5% of the vote.
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