No change in North Down as same five MLAs returned
IT was a case of as you were in North Down as the five MLAs seeking re-election were all returned again.
In stark contrast to last May – when it was one of the slowest counts in Northern Ireland – three candidates were elected by lunchtime yesterday.
The DUP's Alex Easton comfortably topped the poll in a repeat of the 2016 result.
His party again dominated, polling 37.5 per cent of first preference votes, although that represented a drop of just over four per cent from May.
The constituency, where one in two voters did not cast a ballot last time out, saw a 10 per cent increase in turnout.
Of the six outgoing MLAs, the DUP's Peter Weir instead chose to contest Strangford against his former party colleague Jonathan Bell.
Mr Easton added almost 2,000 extra first preference votes to last year's total of more than 6,000, with his party colleague Gordon Dunne also polling strongly.
After the first count, Mr Dunne was fewer than 200 votes off the quota and was easily carried through by transfers from Mr Easton, who used his victory speech to call for unionists to “stop in-fighting” and unite.
Alan Chambers (UUP) and former employment and learning Minister Stephen Farry (Alliance), who had endured a battle for their seats last year, had no such problems this time, each more than doubling their vote and being elected at the first stage.
Mr Farry said: “Last year was the product of running two candidates. The seat in North Down has been a fairly secure seat for us. The combined non-unionist vote in North Down is pushing close to 40 per cent this year.
“However, across Northern Ireland we are seeing the two main parties dominating once again and that will pose major challenges.”
Mr Chambers said the public “will not forgive us” if an agreement on the return of devolution cannot be reached.
Green Party leader Steven Agnew also enjoyed a vote increase, although in a repeat of last May's count, he spent the evening limping towards the quota as various transfers were distributed and was elected despite falling just short of the 6,290 required.
He said the onus was now on politicians to “make sure we are not back here in nine weeks' time”.
Referring to the fact a budget has yet to be agreed, Mr Agnew also said it would be difficult to celebrate when many people “don't know if they will have a job at the end of the month”.
Outside of the top five, only Melanie Kennedy, an independent candidate battling terminal cancer who has had difficulty securing drugs available in other parts of the UK, secured more than 1,000 votes.