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Strangford: Historic Alliance wins show ‘people have sent a clear message: they want the Assembly to work’

Kellie Armstrong cheers on as running mate Nick Mathison gains seat as the remaining three are won by unionists

Kellie Armstrong has declared the Alliance’s seismic surge in the polls as “real” after her Strangford running mate Nick Mathison gained a second seat – at the expense of the DUP.

The incumbent MLA, who was the first to be declared as a winner in the overall election, said the wins heralded a sea change in Northern Ireland politics.

The five seats were filled by the ninth count, which saw the UUP’s Mike Nesbitt and Mr Mathison elected, joining the DUP’s Michelle McIlveen and Harry Harvey who were elected at stage five and six respectively.

Jokingly, Ms Armstrong described the wait for Nick as a “squeaky bum moment”, with pressure coming from SDLP's Conor Houston until he was eliminated at stage 8, but stressed it was a historic day for Alliance, insisting: “The Alliance surge is real.”

"Alliance is a bigger family going into the Assembly, and Alliance will be back negotiating a programme for government… we will ensure that people will come first, because together we can make a better Northern Ireland,” she said.

She exceeded the quota of 6,811 by 204. The overall number of votes was 40,865.

Her message was echoed by Mr Mathison who said the historic results for Alliance showed the people had “shown a very clear message”.

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“And that is that they're looking for politics that delivers. They don’t want protests, division. They don’t want deadlock. They want the Assembly to work.”

Former Education Minister Peter Weir was a shock early exit for the DUP, with the ex-MLA telling the Belfast Telegraph that he wasn’t “walking away” from public life in light of the result.

There was some solace for the party when Michelle McIlveen was elected at stage five and Harry Harvey at stage six.

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Miss McIlveen praised Mr Weir’s service to the Assembly, stressing it would be a “big loss”. “His intellect and ability to debate any topic and filibuster when necessary will be greatly missed,” she explained.

"I hope he does not take too long before he returns to elected politics.”

There were claps and cheers from party supporters, including Lagan Valley DUP MLA Paul Givan, for the party’s second Strangford winner, Harry Harvey.

Despite the loss of Mr Weir, Strangford remains a unionist constituency overall - although the new ground made by Alliance shows a decided move to the centre from voters.

The strength of Alliance's performance had spooked the UUP, which was wryly acknowledged by Mr Nesbitt, who had himself declared that he was at risk of losing his seat early on during the count.

“I’m told that yesterday there was a buck eejit roaming around this auditorium telling people my seat was at risk. I’m told today that he's back wearing a pink shirt so if you see him, send him my way,” he joked.

Turning serious, he added that this was his fourth time being returned to Strangford and he pledged once again to represent everyone – not just UUP voters. He also stressed his party was ready to get the Assembly up and running again with a “programme of government to ensure the next five years are much better than the last five”.

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