Lagan Valley: Pat Catney grabs shock SDLP seat
THE unionist stronghold of Lagan Valley - where a tug-of-war between the DUP and UUP ensues every election - delivered a late surprise last night with the election of an SDLP candidate.
While the DUP topped the poll, the party also lost a seat, as did the UUP.
The biggest surprise of the long day was the election late last night of the SDLP's Pat Catney, who was declared on the eighth count.
Despite courting controversy in recent weeks over the Irish language bursary, the issue appeared to have no effect on the votes polled by the DUP's Paul Givan, who once again topped the poll with an impressive 8,035 votes.
The former minister for communities was the first to be elected in the constituency. In the declaration room, DUP supporters cheered loudly as the result was read out.
Posing with a Union flag, Mr Givan shook hands with his supporters, who patted him on the back.
Following his win, when asked if he would do an interview for The Irish News, the newly elected assembly member replied: "No".
However, speaking to the other press gathered, Mr Givan said: "Obviously I am personally very pleased to have got the endorsement once again from the constituency and the people of Lagan Valley".
"This was an election that we didn't want, but we had to go out and fight in the middle of winter," he said.
"People could see that Sinn Féin called this election to damage unionism, to exploit the opportunities that RHI presented and Mike Nesbitt played into all of that by calling on Arlene (Foster) to resign and Sinn Féin seized on that."
Mr Givan's two party colleagues also polled well with Edwin Poots winning 6,013 first preference votes and Brenda Hale winning 4,566 votes. However, the latter later lost her seat after a close run battle with Mr Catney.
UUP candidate, former firefighter Robbie Butler who entered politics in 2014, also polled well, winning 6,846 first preference votes and was elected on the seventh count.
The 44-year-old said he was “thrilled” with his personal victory however was “disappointed” that UUP leader Mike Nesbitt had resigned.
“Mike will do what he feels will be the best for the party,” he said.
The Alliance Party's Trevor Lunn was also elected on the seventh count.
The longstanding MLA, who has held his seat for 10 years, saw the number of first preference votes he won rise from 3,707 to 6,105.
Meanwhile, there was further bad news for the UUP when Jenny Palmer was eliminated at the sixth stage.
Mrs Palmer fought her debut election for the UUP last May after leaving the DUP following the Red Sky controversy.