East Belfast: Alliance's Naomi Long re-elected after topping the poll

Alliance leader Naomi Long celebrates after being re-elected to East Belfast

ALLIANCE leader Naomi Long stormed to victory in East Belfast yesterday with a poll-topping performance.

The former MP for the constituency racked up 7,610 first-preference votes – almost 1,000 above the quota of 6,727 and over 2,000 more than she received last year.

Her party colleague Chris Lyttle notched up 5,059 first preferences and held his seat on the eighth count.

Ulster Unionist Andy Allen received 5,275 first preferences and was re-elected on the ninth count – returning to Stormont as the party's only MLA in the whole of Belfast.

Mrs Long described the result for Alliance as "hugely encouraging".

"It is a fantastic result. I was delighted to get the support of my constituents and get re-elected in such a convincing fashion," she said.

Mrs Long urged Stormont parties to "look at the message of this election" from the high turnout across Northern Ireland by the electorate.

"They came out in strong numbers to show that they want devolution to work," the former MP for East Belfast said.

Mr Allen said he was looking forward to continuing his constituency work, but was "gutted" over UUP colleagues across the north losing their seats.

"I have lost good friends, people I have built good relationships with. I'm gutted for them all," he said.

The DUP's Joanne Bunting, who polled 6,007 first preferences, was also re-elected on the ninth count.

It left her running mates Robin Newton and David Douglas battling last night for the final seat after receiving 4,729 and 4,431 first-preference votes respectively.

As Stormont speaker, the DUP's Mr Newton had faced a no-confidence motion following criticism over his handling of assembly debates on RHI and loyalist community organisation Charter NI.

DUP constituency office worker Mr Douglas was fielded as a candidate after his father Sammy Douglas stood down ahead of the election.

Reflecting the trend seen across Northern Ireland, East Belfast had an increased voter turnout of 63.02 per cent compared to 57.23 per cent last year.

Alliance continued to see a rise in its share of the first-preference votes with 31 per cent compared to almost 29 per cent last year.

However, the DUP managed to stifle previous years of decline as its first-preference share marginally increased from 36.7 per cent last year to 37.2 per cent.

The Ulster Unionists also increased their vote slightly from 11.1 per cent to 12.9 per cent.

The PUP's John Kyle nabbed 2,658 votes followed by the Green Party's Georgina Milne with 1,447 and Sinn Féin's Mairéad O'Donnell with 1,173.

The TUV's Andrew Girvan polled 917, Cross-Community Labour Alternative's Courtney Robinson 442, the Conservative Party's Sheila Bodel 275 and the SDLP's Séamas de Faoite 250.

Independent candidate Jordy McKeag – an 18-year-old former Orange bandsman who had pledged to gamble his MLA salary on a 1000/1 accumulator to pay off the RHI overspend – received 84 first-preference votes.

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