Assembly Election

West Belfast: Only the most optimistic would have predicted such a massive swing back to Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin's Órlaithí Flynn celebrates being elected as an MLA in West Belfast 

The mood in the Sinn Féin heartland of west Belfast has been one of optimism since the confirmation six weeks ago that we were headed for fresh elections.

But only the most optimistic could have predicted such a massive swing back to the party's glory days.

New comer Órlaithi Flynn topped the poll, elected on the first count with 6918 first preference votes.

The young west Belfast woman, from a well known republican family was always going to be a popular choice, she also represents the up and coming face of a new modernised Sinn Féin.

If republicans were looking for confirmation that their decision to pull the plug on the Stormont coalition was a popular move amongst its voters, the turnout in west Belfast was a ringing endorsement.

With over 66 per cent of those eligible in the constituency casting their vote, and the majority of those for Sinn Féin, this was an historic performance by the party.

While few were surprised that Alex Attwood lost his seat, the speed at which he went out will have cut deep.

A former minister and one of the party's key policy makers, his loss will be felt by the SDLP, but with just 3452 first preference votes in a constituency where Dr Joe Hendron once served as MP, it was clear the electorate don't share that sentiment.

The story of the day was the dramatic fall in support for the People Before Profit Alliance.

Gerry Carroll topped the poll in west Belfast just eight months ago with over 8,000 first preference votes.

This time out, with a respectable but greatly reduced 4903 votes, even combined with his party colleague, Michael Collins 1096 first preference votes, it is a drop that must surely cause PBP to reflect on were they went wrong.

With an increased voter turnout that means an even bigger percentage drop for the party who admitted that the snap election was not well timed.

Reasons for this vary from Sinn Féin taking backs votes previously 'borrowed' to the party to being punished for their pro Brexit stance, which will not have played out well with the youth vote.

The only unionist in with any chance in west Belfast, the DUP Frank McCoubrey polled a respectable 4063, but with little in the way of transfers coming his way, it looks like he's also reached the end of the road.

As it stands it's looking like four Sinn Féin and one PBP to make up the five west Belfast seats.

It was a result predicted by a number of political commentators, but few could have envisaged the numbers involved.

When the results of this election are analysed this will be the constituency that will be pointed to as best reflecting Sinn Féin's confident resurgence.

Assembly Election

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