Poll-topping success for DUP in West Tyrone
Thursday, 9 March 2017
THE DUP's Tom Buchanan may have topped the poll in West Tyrone but ultimately it was Sinn Féin's election, as it tightened its grip on the constituency taking almost half of Thursday's vote.
The party's success was replicated right across the province as it romped to a stunning result marking a seismic shift in the political landscape of Northern Ireland.
Gerry Adams' party emerged as the biggest winners on Friday night securing 27 seats in the reduced 90-seat Assembly - just one behind its biggest rivals - the DUP - who are narrowly remain the largest party at Stormont.
The bruising result means that for the first time in the history of the formation of Northern Ireland there is no longer a unionist majority at Stormont with the DUP also losing its petition of concern veto.
Three of Sinn Fein's 27 seats were won in West Tyrone where the outgoing trio of Michaela Boyle, Barry McElduff and Declan McAleer reclaimed their seats polling some 21,321 first preference votes - a record best for the nationalist party in its electoral history here in West Tyrone and equating to 48.1 per cent share of the 44,325 valid votes cast.
While the DUP did see its vote increase by around 500 votes, SF's rise due to a surge in the nationalist vote and against a backdrop of a record turnout, has proved to be the huge talking point of the election.
The election has left a bitter taste for unionists and as talks continue this morning (Wednesday) to save the Stormont Executive there has been much talk of unionist unity.
Taking to the podium at Omagh Leisure Centre on Friday night, poll-topper Tom Buchanan said the result meant lessons must be learned by unionism.
The Drumquin native took some 9,064 first preference votes and was comfortably elected in stage one - almost doubling his share of votes compared to last year's election.
"It's not all about topping the poll. It's about sustaining the vote and the mandate that we have and increasing that. That's exactly what the DUP has done again here in West Tyrone.
"Not only have we sustained the position that we had but we have also increased that from the last election. The people have spoken; that the DUP is the voice for unionism here.
"Let this be a wake-up call to the unionist people within West Tyrone. Let all the other unionist parties now come and work with us rather than working against us. Because united we stand and I would put that plea out to the unionist people."
The DUP veteran ended his speech adding: "Just like an old saying; 'we haven't gone away you know'."
Strabane's Michaela Boyle and Barry McElduff were elected alongside Mr Buchanan in the first stage with SF capitalising on the pre-election doorstep anger relating to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal and equality issues.
To huge cheers, Mrs Boyle dedicated her party's success to Martin McGuinness whose resignation effectively collapsed the Executive.
"We ran an energised, positive campaign. We were in it to win it and by God did we win! We want to move forward with our mandate for all citizens with integrity, respect and equality.
"I want to pay tribute to our esteemed party colleague, Martin (McGuinness). I know he will be very proud of what has happened here today and right across the six counties. So this is for Martin," she said.
Questions now persist over the future DUP leader, Arlene Foster, who has been accused of mobilising a surge in support for SF by leading a tribal campaign which included jibes about the Irish language and the now infamous 'crocodile' remarks.
Her refusal to stand aside as First Minister pending an inquiry into the RHI scandal helped trigger the snap election.
Barry McElduff said her comments had driven a greater nationalist vote: "In this campaign the famous crocodile has emerged. We have been accused of being crocodiles....we have discovered that in West Tyrone there are 21,321 crocodiles! Sinn Féin stood accused of pursing a united Ireland and a radical republican agenda. Guilty as charged!"
The party vote increased by more than 5,000 with Declan McAleer elected in stage five despite being considered most vulnerable of the three SF runners.
He even appeared somewhat surprised by his election admitting that he didn't have a speech prepared but extended thanks to party supporters and the electorate. "We have a big task ahead of us," he added.
With the reduction in seats from six to five there was always going to be one major political casualty in West Tyrone and it was the UUP who lost its representation.
Running this year on the party ticket and replacing Ross Hussey was 24-year-old Omagh woman, Alicia Clarke.
She polled 3,654 first preference votes in her electoral debut and stayed in the race until the final stage when she was pipped to the final seats by the SDLP's Daniel McCrossan.
The Strabane man securing 6,283 first preference votes. He was happy to see his vote increase from last May and welcomed the strength in the nationalist vote.
"Things are not good politically and what is ironic in all of this is that Arlene and the DUP have possibly delivered Sinn Féin its biggest mandate yet. Her behaviour has driven out the vote," he said.
"The talks will tell the tale. There is a lot at stake. A lot has been sacrificed in the past and there's even more at stake for the future. We need to make sure that we put everyone's interests at heart.
"It's not about the 'us' and 'them'. It's about we, each and every person, man, woman and child across the North who are concerned about health, education, roads - the real issues which have been put at stake as a consequence of the behaviour of the DUP in government and their complete arrogance.
"Arlene Foster could have prevented this election had she stood down but she didn't and as a consequence, I hope the DUP lose much today because that will be justice for us all," he said.
Politicians now have just under three weeks to save the power-sharing arrangements at Stormont. If a government cannot be formed in that time-frame there is every possibility that direct rule could be introduced.
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