Mid Ulster: O'Neill vows no return to status quo
MICHELLE O’Neill laid down an early marker for Sinn Féin by recording the highest vote of any candidate in the north.
The party’s new northern leader amassed 10,285 first preferences to be easily returned on the first count in her native Mid-Ulster.
Sinn Féin’s team of number crunchers looked in relaxed mood shortly after the first ballot boxes were opened as it became clear the party had performed well.
Ms O’Neill and her colleagues Ian Milne and Linda Dillon eventually made a lunchtime appearance at the Ballymena count centre in time for the first declaration.
There was a hiccup when staff initially refused Ms O’Neill entry after she forgot to bring identification, party colleagues later coming to the rescue with her handbag.
But with Mr Milne securing 8,143 first preference votes and Linda Dillon close behind on 7,806, all three were soon celebrating re-election.
It was the largest vote Sinn Féin had ever secured in the constituency and a six per cent increase on its share last year.
The party’s victory came almost 20 years after Martin McGuinness first became MP for Mid Ulster in a breakthrough election success.
Sinn Féin’s fortunes were boosted by a 72 per cent turnout compared to just more than 58 per cent last May.
On the unionist side, the DUP also managed to improve its share of the vote as Keith Buchanan stormed home on the first count with 9,568 first preferences.
It came at the expense of Ulster Unionist Sandra Overend, daughter of former MLA Billy Armstrong, who lost out to the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone for the final seat.
The UUP’s share of the vote fell by almost three per cent this time.
Although the SDLP was also down 2.3 per cent, Mr McGlone said he was never concerned.
“People told us, who were not from a natural SDLP background, that they were transferring to us.”
Elsewhere, only the TUV, through Hannah Loughrin, and Alliance’s Fay Watson secured more than 1,000 votes.