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'Stream of unionists help Gerry Adams to victory' in West Belfast

Unionists helped Gerry Adams to his landslide victory in West Belfast, the Sinn Fein leader claimed today.

He was returned with a thumping majority which represented a 71% share of the vote in a constituency which has been more or less his since his first victory back in 1983.

The SDLP's Joe Hendron held the seat for a time, when it was claimed by republicans that Shankill Road loyalists had given him their support to send him to Westminster.

Mr Adams, 61, said a small but significant stream of unionists had backed him, and made no secret of it.

He claimed: "Its not so much they voted for Sinn Fein, but they told us so because Sinn Fein had done more for them than the unionist parties. I don't want to exaggerate this. It it small, but it is significant. It most comes from a section of working class people."

The Sinn Fein president, who has been under pressure over allegations that he was linked to the murder of Jean McConville and whose brother Liam is resisting demands to return to Northern Ireland to face sex abuse claims, said a lot of people understood he had to deal with difficult issues.

He added: "This election campaign has been very good to me in terms of being a human being. Even if I never got one vote, but to be out there meeting people - some complete strangers - and being totally sympathetic to my family situation.

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"There have been a lot of lies and untruths, but people have made up their mind and decided I was good enough to represent them. I feel humbled by that."

Asked if this might be his last general election campaign, he laughed as he replied: "How long ago have I been elected? It's now 2.30am. So I've only been elected for an hour and you want me to give it up. Give me a chance."

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