'History made' as north returns two anti-Brexit MEPs
THE election of two pro-Remain MEPs was last night hailed as a "great outcome for the north of Ireland".
A poll-topping performance by sitting MEP Martina Anderson enabled Sinn Féin to secure one of the three European Parliament seats, while a surge in support for the Alliance Party saw its leader Naomi Long take the seat the Ulster Unionists had held for 40 years.
DUP incumbent and ardent Brexiteer Diane Dodds came in less than 2,000 first preference votes behind Ms Anderson but was the first MEP returned, passing the 143,112 quota in part thanks to the transfer of votes from eliminated Ulster Unionist candidate Danny Kennedy.
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It meant that as well as unionism losing its dominance, that Northern Ireland was represented by three women for the first time.
Last Thursday's poll marked yet another poor performance from Robin Swann's party, which with just over 53,000 first preference votes ranked sixth overall.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, while failing to regain the seat once held by former leader John Hume, fared better than his UUP counterpart, taking 78,589 first preferences and upholding the party's vote from five years ago.
TUV leader Jim Allister continued his strong record in European polls, securing just over 62,000 first preference votes, well ahead of unionist rival Mr Kennedy.
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Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O'Neill said the electorate had "made history" by returning two MEPs who were opposed to Brexit
She said it was no coincidence that the result closely reflected the regional outcome of the EU referendum in June 2016.
"This is a vital result in terms of sending the right message to Brussels and Britain that we voted to remain in 2016 – and we are still determined to remain," she said.
"The British government and the DUP need to start listening – they need to start respecting the democratic wishes of the people here to remain in the EU."
Ms Anderson described the result as a "great outcome for the north of Ireland".
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Mrs Long, who famously defied the odds to snatch Peter Robinson's Westminster seat in 2010, said her 106,000 first preference votes were "beyond expectations".
Hugged by jubilant party supporters, the East Belfast MLA remarked that she was "speechless for once".
She said the result showed that people in Northern Ireland wanted to remain in the EU.
"I was really clear when I went out campaigning what I want the vote to stand for and it's a vote to remain, it's a vote to have a 'People's Vote' and that's what this vote means," she said.
Freshly re-elected DUP MEP Diane Dodds said her increased mandate showed voters had "rejected calls for a border poll".
"As a DUP MEP I will continue to work with my colleagues in Westminster, and even our opponents will agree we have a pivotal role to play in our national debate as we go forward with leaving the European Union," she said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said she would have preferred to see two unionists elected.
The former first minister attributed Alliance's strong performance to a number of factors, including a low turnout and her contention that some people who voted Leave felt it unnecessary to register their view a second time.
"We found that when we spoke to people they said 'we have already voted, we told you what we want, we want out of Europe'," she said.