Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein on course to retain seat following 55% turnout

By Rebecca Black

Sinn Fein was last night on course for a clear win in the West Tyrone by-election.

As counting neared completion, Orfhlaith Begley was set to retain the seat with a comfortable majority.

It meant Sinn Fein's 17-year hold on the seat, which they first won in 2001, would continue.

The turnout, confirmed shortly before 12.40am this morning, was just over 55%.

Some 35,337 votes were cast out of the total 64,101 electorate.

The by-election was caused by the resignation of Barry McElduff in January.

He quit amid a storm after he appeared in a video with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the anniversary of the massacre of 10 Protestant workmen at Kingsmill.

Polling stations had opened across the constituency yesterday with counting starting shortly after 10pm.

The final ballot boxes arrived at the count centre at Omagh Leisure Centre shortly before midnight.

Turnout was 55.13% - down on the 62.8% figure for last June's General Election.

But it did not deprive Ms Begley, a 26-year-old solicitor, of her first elected position.

As counting continued into the early hours of this morning, it was clear Sinn Fein was holding on to the seat.

Indeed the main focus was on the size of their majority, and the impact that the McElduff controversy had on their vote.

Early tallies last night from the polling company LucidTalk suggested that Sinn Fein's vote was very slightly down.

Their figures suggested Sinn Fein had taken between 46-49% of the vote, the DUP had 22-23%, SDLP had 14-16%, UUP had 7-8% and Alliance had received 3-4%,

In 2017, Mr McElduff won with 22,069 (50%), well ahead of Thomas Buchanan (DUP) with 11,718 votes (26.9%), Daniel McCrossan (SDLP) with 5,635 votes (13%).

The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Mr McElduff earlier this year after he posted a controversial video on Twitter of him posing with a Kingsmill loaf of bread on his head, on same the same date as the anniversary of the 1976 IRA massacre of the same name.

Mr McElduff claimed he had not been aware of the date and it had not been in reference to the shootings, but he also apologised to the family of the victims.

He later resigned his seat over the controversy.

New MP Órfhlaith Begley, Sinn Féin, centre, pictured with party leaders Michelle O'Neill, left, and Mary-Lou McDonald at the count centre in Omagh Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
New MP Órfhlaith Begley, Sinn Féin, centre, pictured with party leaders Michelle O'Neill, left, and Mary-Lou McDonald at the count centre in Omagh Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
New MP Órfhlaith Begley, Sinn Féin pictured at the count centre in Omagh Leisure Centre with party colleagues, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
New MP Órfhlaith Begley, Sinn Féin pictured at the count centre in Omagh Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Tom Buchanan, Democratic Unionist Party at the count centre in Omagh Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Daniel McCrossan, Social Democratic and Labour Party at the count centre in Omagh Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Stephen Donnelly, Alliance Party at the count centre in Omagh Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Órfhlaith Begley, Sinn Féin, centre, arrives with party leaders Mary-Lou McDonald, left, and Michelle ONeill, right, at the count centre in Omagh Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Órfhlaith Begley, Sinn Féin, left, arrives with party leaders Mary-Lou McDonald, centre, and Michelle ONeill, right, at the count centre in Omagh Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Election staff count ballot papers at Omagh Leisure Complex for the West Tyrone Westminster by-election, triggered when the last MP quit amid claims he mocked victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3rd May 2018 - West Tyrone By-Election 2018 in Northern Ireland Electoral Commission staff start counting votes at the count centre in Omagh Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3rd May 2018 - West Tyrone By-Election 2018 in Northern Ireland Electoral Commission staff start counting votes at the count centre in Omagh Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
St Mary's Primary School in Strabane where voters have turned out to vote for their MP in the West Tyrone by-election after the seat was vacated by Sinn Fein Barry McElduff Photo: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
DUP handout photo of DUP leader Arlene Foster with Thomas Buchanan outside Omagh County primary school during voting in the West Tyrone parliamentary by-election. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 3, 2018. Voting is under way in the Westminster by-election triggered when the last MP quit amid claims he mocked victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles. See PA story POLITICS Election WestTyrone. Photo credit should read: DUP/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Daniel McCrossan outside Strabane County primary school after casting his vote in West Tyrone parliamentary by-election, with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and deputy leader Nichola Mallon. Pic: SDLP/PA Wire
Sinn Fein Candidate Órfhlaith Begley pictured as she arrives to vote at Dean Maguirc College, Carrickmore. Photo Credit: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
Sinn Fein candidate Orfhlaith Begley arriving at a polling station in the Co Tyrone village of Carrickmore.
3rd May 2018 General views of Dean Maguirc College, Carrickmore where voters have turned out to vote for their MP in the West Tyrone By Election after the seat was vacated by Sinn Fein Barry McElduff Mandatory Credit © Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
3rd May 2018 General views of St Mary Primary school in Strabane where voters have turned out to vote for their MP in the West Tyrone By Election after the seat was vacated by Sinn Fein Barry McElduff Mandatory Credit © Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
3rd May 2018 General views of St Mary Primary school in Strabane where voters have turned out to vote for their MP in the West Tyrone By Election after the seat was vacated by Sinn Fein Barry McElduff Mandatory Credit © Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
3rd May 2018 Sinn Fein Candidate Órfhlaith Begley pictured as she arrives to vote at Dean Maguirc College, Carrickmore where she is hoping to replace MP Barry McElduff who stepped down as MP for West Tyrone. Mandatory Credit © Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
3rd May 2018 Sinn Fein Candidate Órfhlaith Begley pictured with mum Deirdre as she arrives to vote at Dean Maguirc College, Carrickmore where she is hoping to replace MP Barry McElduff who stepped down as MP for West Tyrone. Mandatory Credit © Stephen Hamilton/Presseye
3rd May 2018 Sinn Fein Candidate Órfhlaith Begley pictured as she arrives to vote at Dean Maguirc College, Carrickmore where she is hoping to replace MP Barry McElduff who stepped down as MP for West Tyrone. Mandatory Credit © Stephen Hamilton/Presseye

There had been speculation that an agreed victims candidate would stand, but all five main parties fielded candidates.

Mr Buchanan and Mr McCrossan ran again, while Chris Smyth stood for the Ulster Unionists and Stephen Donnelly for Alliance.

The counting of the votes started at Omagh Leisure Centre last night around 10.15pm.

However the final ballot boxes did not arrive from polling stations in Strabane until 11.40pm.

Verification of the votes took until 12.30am.

Earlier in the day there was a major security incident when a man was arrested on suspicion of possessing a firearm at a polling station in Greencastle.

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