East Antrim: Solid support for Foster in constituency saying farewell to sole nationalist MLA
As the DUP faced a disappointing election result, backing for Arlene Foster remained steadfast in East Antrim, with the two returning MLAs offering full support for their leader.
David Hilditch and Gordon Lyons were safely elected on Friday evening, with Mr Hilditch topping the poll at the Valley Leisure Centre count with 6,000 first preference votes.
Claiming Ms Foster had been the victim of “shocking personal abuse” during the campaign, he described her as a “very fine leader”. Gordon Lyons, meanwhile, told The Irish News that Ms Foster – who was the only DUP candidate returned in her constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone after the shock elimination of Maurice Morrow – had his support “one hundred percent”.
Mr Lyons – who was co-opted to replace MP Sammy Wilson in 2015 – said: “We are pleased to hold two seats in East Antrim. Three was going to be difficult but I think we have had a good election. Our vote has held up.”
East Antrim was one of the UUP’s better constituency returns in what was a catastrophic election for the party.
Before the announcement of leader Mike Nesbitt’s resignation, returning MLA Roy Beggs was celebrated his re-election with 13.7 percent of the vote.
“I’m delighted to have retained the confidence of voters in East Antrim,” he said.
His UUP running mate John Stewart – who has served as a councillor in Carrickfergus since 2011 – was elected on the ninth round.
For Alliance veteran Stewart Dickson, left, it was a comfortable win on the sixth count.
With only five seats to fill this time round, it was always going to be a tough challenge for Sinn Féin’s Oliver McMullan to hold onto the seat he first won in 2011.
The first nationalist to win a seat in staunchly unionist East Antrim since the SDLP’s Danny O’Connor lost his in 2003, Mr McMullan had enjoyed a 8.1 percent share of the vote in 2016 to return to Stormont.
Less than a year later he was out, after losing the final seat to John Stewart.