Assembly Election

Upper Bann: Nervous wait for Dolores Kelly and John O'Dowd but Carla Lockhart sleeps sound

The DUP's Sydney Anderson and Carla Lockhart celebrate their election with Upper Bann MP David Simpson. Picture by Mal McCann

SEVERAL times on Friday Dolores Kelly drew solace from - and quoted - Mark Twain's famous line that "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated".

The political obituaries were being prepared for the SDLP veteran after 23 years as a public servant, first as a Craigavon councillor and subsequently as MLA.

But as the Upper Bann count seemed destined to drag on to a second day, there was also sensational speculation emerging that the seat of John O'Dowd - and not Kelly - might even be under threat.

No-one would dare predict such an outcome, but it was one of several possible permutations in a constituency where a clutch of independents and smaller party runners (there are 17 candidates here in total) has stolen votes from the established order and muddied the waters.

The Sinn Fein minister's running partner Catherine Seeley was nearly 950 first-preferences ahead of him, following the gamble in asking the chunk of the electorate to give the 'ABC' councillor a number one vote.

Another scenario was that the Ulster Unionists, who put three runners forward, could also have shot themselves in the foot and might only get Jo-Anne Dobson home.

Transfers from the likes of eliminated Alliance man Harry Hamilton are likely to go the way of Dolores Kelly, and if she can get ahead of O'Dowd, she will also benefit slightly from the first UUP man eliminated.

"I don't know what to think. All I know if that I won't be getting any sleep tonight if this is suspended and goes to a second day," said Kelly, whose party's share of the vote dropped to less than 10 per cent, against the 25 per cent for Sinn Fein.

But while four or five nervous candidates were fighting for scraps, there were no problems for the DUP in this unionist constituency.

Carla Lockhart, widely tipped for big things, turned Upper Bann into a sea of red, white and blue, topping the poll with nearly 8,000 votes. Her transfers then carried Sydney Anderson over the line.

It vindicated the party's controversial decision to select the 31-year-old former David Simpson parliamentary secretary ahead of Stormont incumbent Stephen Moutray, and within minutes of her election the first call she received - to raucous cheers from party followers - was from Arlene Foster.

"This is the people's seat and the people have spoken. This is my third time standing for election and the best feeling yet," she said.

"Our percentage of the vote went from 27.1 in 2011 to 31.2 this time - that's some performance."

With the Upper Bann count set for a second day, her only dilemma now is that she may have to surrender her Irish Cup final ticket this afternoon and miss her beloved Glenavon to make a victory speech in Banbridge.

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Assembly Election