Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen's explainer: John Finucane may have ousted Nigel Dodds but real winners were SDLP and Alliance


Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party with party leader Naomi Long after he won the North Down constituency (Michael Cooper/PA)
Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party with party leader Naomi Long after he won the North Down constituency (Michael Cooper/PA)
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein won North Belfast in style. In the end it wasn’t the nail-biter we all predicted. John Finucane made history and took the seat for a nationalist for the first time ever by 2,000 votes.

Neither that story of how he was “caught short” after a night out, nor former SDLP councillor Mairia Cahill’s Facebook post appealing to voters not to support him, mattered a jot in the end.

The symbolism of electing Finucane for republicans is huge. The solicitor son of murdered solicitor on his way to Westminster.

But notwithstanding the lawyer's win, this was a very poor election for Sinn Fein and an amazing one for its SDLP rival.

Colum Eastwood winning Foyle with a 17,000 majority over Elisha McCallion. That’s not a defeat, it’s a humiliation.

The SDLP, whose political obituary has been written so many times, is alive and kicking. Claire Hanna was a dead cert for South Belfast but nobody foresaw that stunning 27,000 vote. She wouldn’t have needed the Greens or Sinn Fein to stand aside, she would have obliterated the opposition anyway.

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John Finucane at the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Despite Sinn Fein’s headline-grabbing North Belfast victory, the real winners in this election are the SDLP and Alliance. Those who thought Naomi Long’s party had reached its peak in the council and EU elections were proved wrong.

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Alliance is now the third largest party in Northern Ireland. It’s securing support from places it never stood a chance. And it’s even winning votes from those who once - whisper it softly - voted DUP.

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