Dallat on verge of taking second nationalist seat in East Derry
SDLP veteran John Dallat appeared to be on the verge of a dramatic comeback victory in East Derry last night.
An also-ran for most of the day, he came back in contention with a late surge with UUP transfers and looked set to snatch the second nationalist seat from Sinn Fein's Cathal Ó hOisín.
Mr Dallat always faced a battle to retain the SDLP's place at Stormont when former colleague Gerry Mullan entered the race as an independent.
Mr Mullan, the party's outgoing MLA, was deselected in favour of the former assembly deputy speaker who came out of retirement to contest the election.
A weakened SDLP struggled in the first count, with Mr Mullan taking 1,200 votes.
However, Mr Dallat was brought back into contention with transfers from eliminated Ulster Unionist William McCandless.
There was some good news for Sinn Féin when outgoing MLA Caoimhe Archibald topped the poll and looked sure to be returned as the party enjoyed an increased share of the vote.
Mr Dallat predicted that the final result would “go down to the wire”, adding that in his many years in politics he had never fought such a difficult campaign.
“My commitment to politics and the party will continue until I finally pass on to wherever,” he said.
“My allegiance is to the party and it's etched in my memories of John Hume and Seamus Mallon and those people who moulded my political thinking.”
The other talking point in East Derry was the performance of former justice minister Claire Sugden.
The independent unionist saw her vote increase and she became the first candidate to be elected when she passed the quota on the eighth count.
Ms Sugden also indicated that she would consider taking up the justice portfolio again if offered the position.
“I am humbled by the result; it has been a very, very good result for me," she said.
“While I wouldn't seek the justice ministry, if it was offered I would consider it. However, it would depend on whether or not there was a chance that we would be back in the same position in a year's time.”
The DUP's share of the vote was down 3.4 per cent in East Derry, but it managed to hold on to two seats.
The outgoing MLAs Maurice Bradley and George Robinson were returned after party colleague Adrian McQuillan was eliminated.
Mr Robinson laid the blame for the loss of Mr McQuillan's seat at the feet of former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, following his campaign comments about transferring to the SDLP.
“The Ulster Unionist candidate's transfers went to John Dallat and that's the straightforward reason that a unionist seat was lost," he said.