Belfast Telegraph

West Tyrone by-election: We've made history.. but lessons to be learned, says new MP Orfhlaith Begley

  • Sinn Fein wins with a reduced majority
  • DUP also loses ground
  • SDLP, UUP and Alliance make gains

By Mark Edwards, Rebecca Black and Ben Tucker

Sinn Fein's Orfhlaith Begley is the new West Tyrone MP following a parliamentary by-election triggered when Barry McElduff quit amid claims he mocked victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Mr McElduff resigned as West Tyrone MP in January, 10 days after controversy flared when he posted a video of himself with a Kingsmill-branded loaf on his head on the anniversary of the notorious Kingsmill massacre.

He insisted the video was not an intentional reference to the 1976 sectarian murders of 10 Protestant workmen by republican paramilitaries near the Co Armagh village of Kingsmill, but he acknowledged it had caused hurt and offence to victims' families.

Five candidates contested the by-election, with a turnout of 55%.

Sinn Fein’s Orfhlaith Begley, a 26-year-old solicitor, was defending a 10,000-plus majority. She topped the poll with 16,346 votes.

Abstentionist MP Ms Begley noted that her victory came in the centenary year of the first woman MP elected to Westminster, the Irish nationalist Countess Markievicz.

"This is the first female MP for West Tyrone you are looking at," she told cheering supporters inside the count centre in Omagh, among them Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald and vice president Michelle O'Neill.

"So today we have made history, we are the history makers and we will continue to be."

Referring to Mr McElduff's Kingsmill video, she said there were "lessons to learn".

"Going forward it's vital for people in public life to recognise and acknowledge the pain that exists," she said.

The new MP also issued a direct message to unionists, urging reconciliation.

"What I am about is building for the future," she said.

"Reaching out to unionism and building bridges between our communities - so that we can live in a shared and reconciled future together.

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

"I am fully open to that if you are."

Thomas Buchanan, who contested the seat for the DUP,  received 8,390 votes ahead of Daniel McCrossan for the SDLP (6,254 votes) and local councillor Chris Smyth, who represented the Ulster Unionists (2,909 votes).

Stephen Donnelly, who was the Alliance Party’s candidate, improved on his 2017 electoral performance, receiving 1,130 votes.

Polls opened at 7am and closed at 10pm on Thursday.

There was a security incident during the day when a man was arrested on suspicion of possessing a firearm at a polling station.

Police investigating the incident in Greencastle, Co Tyrone, detained the 59-year-old on suspicion of possession with “intent to cause fear or alarm”.

He was later charged and will appear in court on Friday.

Here's how the day unfolded:

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