West Belfast: Sinn Féin reclaims city stronghold
Sinn Féin displayed its dominance of West Belfast on Friday and managing its vote with expert precision, comfortably seeing off what 10 months ago looked like a serious challenge from People Before Profit.
Sinn Féin took four seats with ease, leaving Gerry Carroll, who had topped the poll last May, as the only other returning assembly member.
The youngest republican candidate, Órlaithi Flynn topped the poll – elected in the first count.
The mood in west Belfast had been one of optimism since the election was called just over six weeks ago. This is the party’s heartland and the place where anger over the comments made by Arlene Foster regarding the Irish language had the greatest impact. Only the most optimistic, however, could have predicted such a massive swing back to the party’s glory days.
If republicans were looking for confirmation that their decision to pull the plug on the Stormont coalition was the right one, the turnout of 66 per cent in west Belfast was a ringing endorsement.
Alex Maskey, the man who started the modern party’s electoral journey back in 1983 was also elected, with veteran Fra McCann and Pat Sheehan also over the line, in one the earliest constituencies to be called. It was also the place where one of the big name losses was felt, in the form of the SDLP’s Alex Attwood who lost his seat on an early elimination.
A former minister and one of the party’s key policy makers, his loss will be felt by the SDLP, but with just 3,452 first preference votes in a constituency where Dr Joe Hendron once served as MP, it was clear the electorate don’t share that sentiment.
The story of the day was the dramatic fall in support for the People Before Profit Alliance.
Gerry Carroll was in front just eight months ago with over 8,000 first preference votes.
This time out, with a respectable but greatly reduced 4,903 votes, even combined with his party colleague, Michael Collins’s 1,096 first preference votes, it is a drop that must surely cause PBP to reflect on were they went wrong. With an increased voter turnout, that means an even bigger percentage drop for the party who admitted the snap election was not well timed.