Strangford: Race goes to the wire once more as two sitting MLAs lose seats
IN one of the most fascinating battles of the election, Strangford went to the wire once more as two sitting MLAs lost their seats and the SDLP candidate was again pipped at the post in his fifth consecutive attempt at gaining a seat.
Seven MLAs – including former education minister Peter Weir, parachuted in from neighbouring North Down – competed for five assembly seats.
With turnout increasing by 11 per cent from May, the quota was duly raised to 6,465.
All eyes, figuratively speaking, were on suspended DUP member Jonathan Bell, who did not attend the count centre.
Mr Bell, standing as an independent candidate following a row with DUP leader Arlene Foster over the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, has not been seen or heard of since election day, when he polled just under 1,500 first preference votes.
The elimination of the former enterprise minister, at the seventh count, completed a fine day for the DUP, with Simon Hamilton topping the poll and the party’s three candidates receiving almost 40 per cent of the first preference votes.
Mike Nesbitt, the Ulster Unionist leader, who resigned before the count was completed, was returned to Stormont but fell into fourth place, after coming first in Strangford in May.
Mr Nesbitt and the DUP’s Michelle McIlveen eventually made it back to Stormont on the ninth count.
Mr Nesbitt’s running mate, Philip Smith, lagged behind his party leader and the three DUP candidates, and lost his assembly seat after just ten months in the job.
In a surprise development, the first seat declared was not for a unionist, but Alliance’s Kellie Armstrong, elected on the fourth count with transfers and 15 per cent of the vote, a four per cent increase.
Ms Armstrong said: “Strangford is considered a unionist bastion and yet Alliance has taken the first seat.”
Since the return of power-sharing in 2007, the constituency has a tradition of seeing a tight scrap to elect its last MLA, and this time round was no different.
Despite polling more than 3,000 votes and overtaking Peter Weir, SDLP councillor Joe Boyle, left, yet again suffered an agonising defeat after unionist transfers killed off his hopes.