#AE 17 South Antrim: Declan Kearney crowned king but unionism still constituency's force to be reckoned with
ECHOES of 2007 when Mitchell McLaughlin topped the poll in South Antrim were felt at the Valley Leisure Centre, as Sinn Féin again ruled the day, with the party’s National Chairperson Declan Kearney the first to be elected to Stormont.
This success a decade on from the first ever Assembly victory for republicans in the traditionally unionist constituency seemed to sum up the party’s mood across the board; as the afternoon counting continued elsewhere, their confidence was palpable and it looked as if their big election gamble had paid off.
The usual suspects, meanwhile, fell early by the wayside, and realised their Stormont dreams were just that....dreams.
The Greens, People Before Profit, the TUV, the Tories...all were eliminated as the counting continued towards that magic quota of 7058. The DUP meanwhile, although facing uncertainty elsewhere, seemed happy that the predictions of at least two of their three previous MLAs being returned looked likely to come true.
Early count totals looked promising for the trio of Girvan, Clarke and Cameron, and no doubt the early success of their East Antrim colleague David Hilditch inspired a confidence which rubbed off on them in the Valley’s DUP huddle.
Another candidate enjoying the warm glow of belief in himself and his reliable voters was former Alliance chief David Ford. An early afternoon prediction of his seat remaining looked set to become reality as the votes transferred his way.
His grin was buoyed by news from beyond Newtownabbey that his party was to enjoy its best Assembly election since 1998 – holding seats as other shed theirs amid the retreating number of Stormont seats.