Northern Ireland news

West Belfast: heartland beats for republicans

Órlaithí Flynn, Alex Maskey, Fra McCann and Pat Sheehan were all elected for a buoyant Sinn Féin in West Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

WEST Belfast was the story of the election for Sinn Féin, with all four of its candidates romping home without breaking a sweat.

Órlaithí Flynn was the first of the quartet, and the only woman elected. Young, educated and full of enthusiasm, she best represents the new face of Sinn Féin and easily made the quota of 6,725.

The 29-year-old said it was an election "about bigger politics".

"There was a lot of anger around Arlene Foster and RHI, but we kept to our three core issues, equality, integrity and respect, and the people of west Belfast embraced that," she said.

"I was only an MLA for a few short weeks so I'm delighted I've done so well and delighted the party has as well."

Veteran party colleague Alex Maskey quickly followed, the man who started modern Sinn Féin's electoral journey back in the early 1980s still going strong with 6,346 first preference votes.

People Before Profit Alliance's Gerry Carroll was the story last May, but this year it was his party's drop in popularity that was noticeable.

The young socialist fought a good fight, and polled respectably, being elected on the fourth count ahead of the DUP's Frank McCoubrey.

He secured 4,903 first preference votes compared to more than 8,000 when he topped the poll in Sinn Féin's heartland last year, although the party also ran a second candidate, Michael Collins, who polled 1,096.

Mr Carroll said they "took a risk, that didn't pay off this time".

He'll return to the assembly, should there be a government to return to, a lone MLA. A party that seemed on the rise less than a year ago is now reduced to a single Stormont representative.

The ever popular Fra McCann also reached his quota on the fourth count and his party colleague Pat Sheehan was returned just shy of a quota.

Sinn Féin was in jubilant mood as Ms Flynn thanked the electorate, watched on by a very sombre Alex Attwood.

Orlaithi Flynn and Michelle O'Neill in Belfast at the Northern Ireland Assembly election Picture by Hugh Russell.

For the first time since the formation of the devolved institutions, West Belfast does not have an SDLP assembly member and the significance was not lost on the former minister who made a magnanimous but emotional farewell speech.

He thanked all those who had supported him in his three decades as an elected representative, first as a city councillor and then as MLA.

He said he felt he had "let down the SDLP", but it was when he spoke of his brother and fellow party member Tim and his wife and daughters that his voice started to crack.

In the constituency of former MP Dr Joe Hendron it was a bitter blow for the SDLP, but this was Sinn Féin's election and nothing was getting in the way of its success story.

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