Sinn Féin celebrates 'historic' win in South Down
SINN Fein was last night celebrating an “historic election” in South Down after topping the poll for the first time in a decade.
Newcomer Sinead Ennis polled an impressive 10,256 first preference votes, just a month before she gives birth to her second child, and was the first MLA returned in the constituency.
Also elected on the first count was party colleague and former infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard, with a vote of 8,827 compared to 5,045 last year.
The pair's performance meant the Sinn Féin vote increased by more than 6,000 on last May, and its share by 7.6 per cent.
Ms Ennis (33), who has been a member of Sinn Féin since she was 16, took the seat vacated by Caitríona Ruane, who had served the constituency for 14 years.
“I'm so delighted for the whole team,” she said.
“We are just on a high. Topping the poll is never really on the agenda. It's about increasing our mandate in South Down."
Elsewhere, there was little change in the Stormont line-up.
Elected on the third count was the SDLP's Sinead Bradley, who polled 7,323 first preference votes and passed the quota to retain her seat with the help of transfers from Sinn Féin.
However, Ms Bradley was not present at Lagan Valley LeisurePlex to celebrate her win as the count took place on the same day her father, former SDLP assembly member PJ Bradley, was laid to rest.
DUP stalwart Jim Wells also polled well, pulling in 7,786 first preference votes - up from 5,033 last May.
The former health minister, who was contesting his 17th election, said his party was “very happy” with its performance.
“Sinn Fein saw this as a way of breaking the back of unionism. Arlene Foster is still there, going forward”.
He added that the RHI scandal had not been an issue on the doorsteps, describing it as “the flame that never burned in South Down”.
The final seat in the constituency went to the SDLP's Colin McGrath, who was elected on the seventh count.
The UUP's Harold McKee was the outgoing MLA to lose out.
Mr McGrath said it had been “a difficult campaign” for the SDLP.
“People want action,” he said.
“They want Stormont doing something for them. People said they were tired of arrogance and ignorance. Together, I hope that everybody can make their way back up the hill and can start working for the people of Northern Ireland because that's what they deserve most”.