John Finucane attracts huge increase in Sinn Féin vote but not enough to oust Nigel Dodds in North Belfast
DESPITE attracting a huge increase in the Sinn Féin vote, John Finucane was unable to make history and become the first nationalist MP for North Belfast.
Nigel Dodds, the DUP deputy leader and MP for the constituency since 2001, also saw his vote rise as he saw off the strong challenge of the Belfast lawyer.
Mr Finucane added an impressive 6,000 votes to Gerry Kelly's total from 2015, and increased the party's share by eight per cent.
However, Sinn Féin figures were conceding early on that the gap to the DUP would prove too wide to bridge.
With the Ulster Unionists standing aside to allow Mr Dodds a free run, and the SDLP fielding a candidate, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the republican party.
Nevertheless, the DUP's majority was trimmed back to just over 2,000 votes for the first time since 2010.
The battle between the two big parties saw the highest turnout for a Westminster election in North Belfast since the day Nigel Dodds first became MP 16 years ago.
Mr Finucane, a long-time campaigner for a public inquiry into the murder of his father Pat by loyalists in 1989, had been making his first foray in electoral politics.
He concluded his speech by saying "we will be back, very much so".
Mr Dodds told cheering crowds of supporters that it was a "great night for the union" and the DUP would play a "very important role" in politics in the weeks and months ahead.
"This is the fifth election in a row that I have been returned in North Belfast. It is the largest DUP vote in the last 20 years in North Belfast and we have made history."
The run-off between the DUP and Sinn Féin saw the smaller parties squeezed out, with Alliance's Sam Nelson almost 17,000 votes behind Mr Finucane in third place.
The SDLP, running party press officer Martin McAuley, shedded more than 1,000 votes from 2015 to finish fourth.
Nigel Dodds (DUP) 21,240 (46.24%) -0.80%
John Finucane (SF) 19,159 (41.71%) +7.79%
Sam Nelson (All) 2,475 (5.39%) -1.86%
Martin McAuley (SDLP) 2,058 (4.48%) -3.74%
Malachai O'Hara (Green) 644 (1.40%)
Gemma Weir (WP) 360 (0.78%) -1.48%
Turnout 45,936 (67.31%) +8.09%