East Derry: Dallat puts dramatic victory down to track record
THE SDLP’s John Dallat put his dramatic victory in East Derry down to his track record as an assembly member.
In the early stages of Friday’s count, it appeared the ploy of bringing the former Stormont deputy speaker out of retirement would crash and burn.
For much of the day, it looked as if Sinn Féin’s Cathal Ó hOisín would be returned alongside party colleague Caoimhe Archibald, who topped the poll.
However, a late surge in transfers brought Mr Dallat right back into contention.
The Kilrea man collected both Ulster Unionist and DUP preferences to take him past Mr Ó hOisín and eventually win the seat.
Mr Dallat retired from the assembly last year and the seat he held was taken over by former SDLP mayor of Limavady Gerry Mullan.
However, when Mr Mullan was deselected in January, he resigned from the SDLP and stood as an independent.
Winning 1,204 votes on the first count, it looked as if he would derail the SDLP’s hopes of retaining the seat.
Mr Dallat believes his last-gasp victory was due to his long track record as a public representative.
“I have been in politics for 40 years and I’ve always embraced cross-community work and people remember those things."
He said the campaign had been a particularly bruising one but pleased to serve the people of East Derry once again.
“The first thing we have to do now is re-establish the party’s network in the constituency. To that end I will be re-opening my constituency office in Kilrea and I intend getting down to business and hitting the ground running."
Independent unionist and former justice minister Claire Sugden was also safely returned to Stormont, and again put her victory down to her constituency work.
That meant the big loser in East Derry was the DUP.
The constituency has been considered a DUP stronghold for many years, with the party representing the area at Westminster and dominating the local council.
Outgoing MLA Adrian McQuillan failed to hold his seat, although party colleagues Maurice Bradley and George Robinson were returned.
Mr Robinson blamed the Ulster Unionist Party.
“The Ulster Unionist candidate’s transfers went to John Dallat and that’s the straightforward reason that a unionist seat was lost,” he said.