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Sinn Fein's new MP Orfhlaith Begley promises to reach out to unionists

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein's new MP for West Tyrone has said she is holding out "an open hand in friendship" to unionists and will work to build bridges and seek "resolutions rather than recrimination".

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Orfhlaith Begley says she is proud to be part of a "vibrant, growing and dynamic party under the new leadership of Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill".

The Sinn Fein woman was elected comfortably with a majority of almost 8,000. However, her party's share of the vote was down 4%, while the SDLP's rose 5%.

Ms Begley secured 16,346 votes and a 47% share of the poll compared to the 22,000 votes and 51% share won by her predecessor Barry McElduff last year.

DUP MLA Thomas Buchanan was her nearest rival on 8,390 votes and 24% of the poll. Like Sinn Fein, the DUP's vote fell. Last June it secured 11,700 votes and 27% of the poll.

Of the five parties contesting the election, the SDLP's performance improved most signficiantly, with local MLA Daniel McCrossan securing 6,254 votes and 18% of the poll.

Ulster Unionist councillor Chris Smyth won 2,909 votes and 8% of the poll, a 3% rise on the party's performance last June.

Alliance increased its support by 1%, with Stephen Donnelly taking 1,130 votes.

At 55%, turnout was down 13% from last year.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Ms Begley said: "I will reach out with an open hand in friendship to our unionist neighbours. I will work to seek resolutions rather than recrimination. I will work to build bridges.

"I will do so as part of a vibrant, growing and dynamic party under the new leadership of Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill. I am hugely excited by that, because this can be a genuinely new era for Irish politics."

Describing Brexit as a major challenge, she said: "This is not an Orange or Green issue. It is an issue on which we must work together for the common good."

Mr Buchanan said he was pleased with the DUP's performance. "The people of West Tyrone have spoken and I respect their decision," he said.

"However, I am extremely disappointed that the constituency will continue to be unrepresented in Parliament,

"Whilst West Tyrone has an MP, it does not have one who is prepared to do the full job expected of them."

He added: "The election has been marred by serious allegations of interference in the democratic process. These must be investigated fully and there should also be a proper discussion about reform of the electoral process."

Mr McCrossan welcomed the rise in the SDLP's vote, but added: "Unfortunately, the election result means that nationalism here in the North has again been left without a voice in the most important chamber whilst the Assembly sits dormant.

"The SDLP will continue to do everything in our power to fight for our constituents using all the avenues available to us, including working with our sister parties across these islands and across Europe."

Mr Smyth said the UUP's vote proved "confident, progressive unionism is very much alive in West Tyrone".

He added: "I'm confident in my unionism. I'll continue to stand up for the innocent victims of terrorism and I'll continue to represent the future of unionism. I look forward to building on this result. The work starts now."

Mr Donnelly said he was pleased with his result. "Given the fact it was a first past the post election, which is always a difficult scenario for centrist parties to compete in, I am delighted our vote increased," he said.

"Alliance is continuing to grow in West Tyrone and other areas, as proven over the past 12 months. It's clear West Tyrone voters responded positively to our message of progressive politics."

He said the lower turnout reflected frustration with the political deadlock.

"It is this show of apathy that makes it more important than ever we get the Executive re-established and a return to locally accountable power-sharing," he added.

Belfast Telegraph

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