Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin hopeful of election ‘hattrick’ amid night of mixed fortunes for unionism

Republicans set to add to assembly and local government election successes with a steady Westminster performance

Sinn Féin's South Down candidate Chris Hazzard. PICTURE: OLIVER MCVEIGH/PA (Oliver McVeigh/Oliver McVeigh/PA Wire)

Sinn Féin were hopeful of emerging with the greatest number of MPs following a night of mixed fortunes for unionism.

The DUP faced the prospect of losing at least two seats, with former Ulster Unionist health minister Robin Swann emerging as a strong favourite to oust sitting MP Paul Girvan in South Antrim, overcoming a majority of 2,689.

Gavin Robinson’s party was also battling to retain Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s former seat in Lagan Valley where early tallies put Alliance’s Sorcha Eastwood neck-and-neck with Jonathan Buckley.

Who has been elected in Northern Ireland? Full results from Westminster election.

The DUP leader, who succeeded Sir Jeffrey a matter of months ago in controversial circumstances, was also involved in a close contest in East Belfast against his Alliance counterpart Naomi Long.

In an election which fell in the midst of the traditional holiday period, the final turnout figure looked to be below its two immediate predecessors at around 60%.

Sinn Féin, which ran a relatively low key campaign, looked on course to hold all seven of its seats but was expected to fail in an ambitious bid to retake Foyle, where the party triumphed in 2017.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood appeared likely to retain the seat, albeit with a reduced majority.

North Down
North Down independent candidate Alex Easton. PICTURE: KELVIN BOYES/PRESS EYE

Meanwhile, early speculation that the SDLP would pull off a surprise victory in South Down appeared unfounded, with Sinn Féin’s Chris Hazzard expected to successfully defend the seat for the second time.

The prospects for the SDLP’s Claire Hanna were better in the reconfigured constituency of South Belfast and Mid Down, where tallies indicated a win by a comfortable margin.

While Alliance supporters in Lagan Valley were buoyant, the mood among their North Down counterparts was much more subdued.

Ulster Unionist candidate Tim Collins conceded defeat soon after the polls closed, while former DUP MLA-turned-independent Alex Easton was upbeat about his prospects of defeating Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry.

“People in North Down don’t want someone who doesn’t live in Northern Ireland, they want a homegrown boy, they are interested in local politics, they are not interested in cutting VAT, they are not interested in international affairs - they are interested in potholes and hedges,” said the former British Army colonel.

At 2am in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, the most marginal seat going into the election with just 57 votes separating the candidates in 2019, it was unclear whether former nursing union boss Pat Cullen would prevail.

There were concerns that Ms Cullen, fighting her first election and coming from outside constituency, would fail to attract a personal vote to match her predecessor Michelle Gildernew.

Elsewhere Sinn Féin looked in a stronger position in the remainder of the seven seats they began with, including North Belfast and Mid Ulster.

DUP veteran Sammy Wilson was confident he would retain his East Antrim seat though with a dented majority.

“My majority at the moment is over 6,000 – it may be lower because of the lower turnout and the challenge from the TUV candidate,” he said.

Asked about the threat from the Alliance Party’s Danny Donnelly, Mr Wilson said: “I think it will be a scrabble between Danny Donnelly and the Ulster Unionists as to who comes second.

“Alliance came second last time, and I expect they will do so again.”

Meanwhile, first results in Britain showed Labour on course to secure a significant parliamentary majority.

Early declarations on what was being billed as a historic night suggested the curtain was coming down conclusively on 14 years of Tory rule, with Sir Keir Starmer widely earmarked to lead the next government.

Polling indicated Labour would more than double its number of seats, while the Conservatives’ vote was expected to collapse.