Northern Ireland news

South Belfast: Alliance claim two seats as vote management pays off

Sinn Féin's Deirdre Hargey hugs her mum Anne. Ms Hargey topped the poll in South Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

IF Friday belonged to Deirdre Hargey, who topped the poll for Sinn Féin, then the rest of the count belonged to Alliance.

The party's impressive vote management saw two candidates elected - Paula Bradshaw and Kate Nicholl, who will now have to relinquish her role as Belfast Lord Mayor.

An emotional Edwin Poots, of the DUP, claimed the second of five seats, dedicating his win to the late Christopher Stalford, who died suddenly in February.

"It should have been Chris here," Mr Poots said.

Matthew O'Toole's win was a rare bright spot for the SDLP, who will now be licking their wounds after a bloody election.

But Green Party leader Clare Bailey lost out which, combined with the loss of Rachel Woods' North Down seat, means that the party no longer has a presence at Stormont.

Ms Bradshaw told The Irish News the Alliance had decided on "a very, very high risk vote management system" which paid off.

"If you're serious about bringing young people and very capable women like Kate Nicholl through then you have to give them those chances," she said.

"I didn't see it as a gamble, I saw it as an opportunity to get two in."

She said the party had benefited from the 'Naomi effect', as well as its decision to move "very much into a progressive space in terms of our policies and priorities".

Ms Nicholl said Friday night was a sleepless one before her election was confirmed.

"I never imagined that we would start to have this kind of success," she said. "We've put in hard work over the decades and it's starting to pay off."

Ms Nicholl, who is eight months pregnant, said it will be "really interesting" to see how the assembly deals with her having a newborn baby.

"(At Belfast City Council) my son came with me to meetings from the age of four weeks," she said.

"I breastfed so he had to come with me. I'm intending to do the same with this baby. We're going to see how they deal with that and how they need to change the system to facilitate that."

Mr O'Toole got over the line late on Friday, thanks to transfers from colleague Elsie Trainor.

He said the party ran a good campaign but some issues worked against them.

"One was the structural move towards progressive middle ground towards the Alliance Party and the other was the move of some nationalists towards Sinn Féin," he said.

"In terms of South Belfast I think it was quite an achievement that our vote held up with two new first-time candidates in that context with very strong Sinn Féin and Alliance votes."

He said he did not think the inclusion of anti-abortion republican party Aontú was a big factor in the SDLP losing a section of its first preference vote.

"Clearly at the margins there are some people who dislike the fact that we have a conscience position on abortion," he said.

"I am strongly pro-choice, others in the party are pro-life but to be honest I don't think that was a major determinant."

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