South Belfast: Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir tops the poll
SINN Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir was greeted with the roars of cheering supporters yesterday as he topped the poll in South Belfast.
The former finance minister beamed with pride as his victory was announced at Belfast's Titanic Exhibition Centre.
He was re-elected to Stormont on the first count after achieving 7,610 first-preference votes – more than 400 above the quota of 7,176.
It was an increase of more than 2,000 on his vote last year, when the former Belfast lord mayor had to wait until the fifth count to secure his seat.
The SDLP's Claire Hanna received the second largest number of first-preferences with 6,559, while Alliance's Paula Bradshaw came third with 5,595. They were both re-elected on the sixth count.
A heavily pregnant Ms Hanna had already left the count centre when her triumph was confirmed late last night, but party supporters made plenty of noise in her absence.
Speaking following his election win, Mr Ó Muilleoir said: "We are in surreal territory, Sinn Féin in South Belfast topping the poll, having a surplus to re-distribute – I didn't imagine any of that.
"I think it's evidence of a new agenda, a new rainbow coalition in South Belfast."
The 58-year-old, who is a fluent Irish speaker, said calls for an Irish language act during the campaign were "very potent" in his constituency.
In a trend seen across the north, election turnout surged in South Belfast from 54.25 per cent last year to 63.96 per cent.
Ms Bradshaw said those she spoke to during the campaign were keen to discuss how to "maximise" their vote.
"People were really thinking about tactically voting. I think that was reflected in the higher turnout," she said.
Last night it appeared the battle for the final seat was between the Greens and the DUP – with the result only set to become clear in the final stages of the count.
The DUP's Christopher Stalford polled 4,529 first preferences followed by party colleague Emma Little Pengelly on 4,446 and the Green Party's Clare Bailey on 4,247. All three sought re-election, but only two seats remained last night.
Ulster Unionist candidate Michael Henderson notched up 3,863 first-preference votes – and his transfers were considered crucial for the final seat.
Alliance's Emmet McDonough-Brown polled 2,053 while the SDLP's Naomh Gallagher achieved 1,794.