South Antrim: Kearney hails win as victory over 'bigotry'
Sinn Féin’s success in South Antrim was a victory for “equality, respect and integrity”, according to Declan Kearney, who topped the poll on a night that saw the DUP lose one of three MLAs in the traditionally unionist constituency.
The Sinn Féin national chairperson was the first candidate to be elected, securing his seat on the fourth round of counting.
His overall vote tally jumped to 7065 from last May’s assembly election when he polled 4632.
In his victory speech he said his voters had sent a “strong message” to the DUP.
“Equality, respect and rights must be put at the heart of the process,” Mr Kearney said.
“There are no second class citizens in the north of Ireland. No-one will be put to the back of the bus any more.”
Also enjoying a good return at the ballot box was Ulster Unionist Stephen Aiken, whose win was soured by the resignation of UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and a poor result for the party in other count centres.
With a final tally of 7058 votes, he took to the podium at Newtownabbey’s Valley Leisure Centre and warned: “We are moving into difficult times. It’s not going to be easy.”
However, he paid a warm tribute to his outgoing leader, adding: “I have the utmost admiration for Mike Nesbitt.”
The former submarine commander told The Irish News afterwards that it was “far too early” for him to speculate on who might now lead the UUP, and refused to be drawn on whether he would throw his hat into the ring.
“We need to do what’s best for the party but for Northern Ireland also. Party before country,” he said.
Feeling more positive about his party’s future was former Alliance leader David Ford, who before being told he had been re-elected in South Antrim thanks to generous transfers, predicted his party’s “best election since 1998”.
The final two seats belonged to the DUP, but with three candidates it was a nervous wait for the trio as the eighth round of counting got underway. Ultimately, it was Trevor Clarke who learned he would not be returning to Stormont, as his colleagues Pam Cameron and Paul Girvan were deemed elected despite having failed to make the quota.