Round-up of election news


The Sinn Féin election machine almost pulled off a spectacular coup in Belfast, nearly winning eight seats in the four constituencies having run nine candidates.

It is now the largest party in the city, beating the two main unionist groupings. The unionist battle was decisively won by the Democratic Unionists who picked up seven seats including the last seat in West Belfast.

Early on Thursday it appeared likely that Sinn Féin could achieve its pre-election target of eight seats across the city including five seats in the republican stronghold of West Belfast alone.

The first preference tally showed good voter discipline with all four Sinn Féin candidates sitting within 1,000 votes of each other and the party president on 6,199. Mr Adams's surplus went to those running mates on the lower first preference totals ensuring they were kept in the count.

It was the unforeseen elimination of Dr Joe Hendron, rather than Mr Alex Attwood whom Sinn Féin had targeted, which passed on vital transfers to the DUP's Diane Dodds leaving the unfortunate Sue Ramsey bottom of the list and therefore eliminated. She needed some 87 more votes to remain in the race and to pick up the final seat sub-quota.

Sinn Féin election workers predicted that the DUP seat would be lost in a future election. It was a productive election for Sinn Féin as the party was also able to bring in new faces and help establish others for future elections.

Mr Fra McCann and Mr Michael Ferguson in West Belfast and Ms Kathy Stanton in North Belfast are now established as Assembly figures, while Mr Alex Maskey, Sinn Féin's first Lord Mayor of the city, has successfully carved out a toehold in South Belfast.

Ms Bairbre de Brun, the party's candidate in next June's European election, also performed well in West Belfast and underscored her position as a strong republican election performer.

The big story in north Belfast was the defeat of the PUP's Billy Hutchinson and the election of a second Sinn Féin candidate.

A growing and well marshalled nationalist electorate ensured Sinn Féin's Cathy Stanton joined Gerry Kelly in the cockpit constituency.

A clearly thrilled Ms Stanton said her election was not just a boost for her party, but also for the representation of women in the assembly.

``I am absolutely delighted for everyone who put in the work and went out and got the vote in,'' she said.

``We have worked hard and will continue to do so.... but there will be a big party tonight for what we have done.''

On the lack of women representation to the assembly she said: ``It is very difficult for women particularly those with families but it could be made easier. Women need to be encouraged to come on board and stand for election.''

It was always going to be a tight squeeze in South Belfast and in the end it was the Women's Coalition who found themselves crowded out.

Alex Maskey, who vacated a safe seat in West Belfast to fight for a place in the south of the city, said his success was based on his promise to represent the entire constituency.

``The promises that we made to people on the doorsteps about making sure we press forward with implementing the agreement, making sure that every citizen get their rights and entitlements - I will live up to that pledge,'' he said.

The most lasting image of the day was when events in the King's Hall count centre, which is normally used for showing pigs, was wound up.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and Nigel Dodds shared a desk as they waited to give radio interviews - but they remained poles apart.

Mr Adams sat facing Mr Dodds, but the North Belfast MP was not up for any grand gesture, instead looking everywhere but at his republican assembly counterpart.


A marathon battle in Foyle finally ended last night with a return of the status quo and the SDLP holding its three seats to Sinn Féin's two.

For much of the day, it looked as though Sinn Féin would take one of the SDLP seats and it wasn't until the transfer of Social Environmental Alliance candidate Eamonn McCann's votes that the SDLP was safe.

As the day wore on, the tedium of one of the slowest counts was interrupted by some strange transfers.

When outgoing DUP assembly member Willie Hay's votes were distributed, it emerged that some of his transfers had gone to former leader of the IRA in the Maze prison, Raymond McCartney.

After Mr McCann and Ulster Unionist Mary Hamilton's votes were distributed, long-standing SDLP councillor Mary Bradley was returned over quota with former SDLP mayor Pat Ramsey coming in just under.

That left a fight for the last seat between Sinn Féin's two remaining candidates Mrs Nelis and Mr McCartney, with Mrs Nelis winning out by just a nine-vote advantage in a battle with her party colleague, Raymond McCartney.


The surprise in West Tyrone was the election hospital candidate Dr Kieran Deeny. Topping the poll with 6,158 votes, the Carrickmore doctor caused one of the most interesting developments in the 2003 elections. His victory makes him the first person to be elected to Stormont on a single issue.

A father-of-three, Dr Deeny has been campaigning to retain an acute hospital in Omagh and Sinn Féin's Barry McElduff believes the ``clarity and simplicity'' of his message secured victory.

Mr McElduff said Dr Deeny had achieved the impossible, winning votes from nationalist and unionists. Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party in the area, with 38.6 per cent (16,111) of first preference votes but Dr Deeny polled 14.8 per cent on his own.

Fermanagh/South Tyrone returned one of the most outspoken Ulster Unionist opponents of the Good Friday agreement yesterday, with the election of Arlene Foster in the fifth count.

Sinn Féin and the UUP both took two seats, while the SDLP and DUP won one apiece. Thomas O'Reilly of Sinn Féin took the last seat from outgoing assembly member and colleague Gerry McHugh.

Mid-Ulster provided one of the highest profile defeats with the electoral demise of SDLP founder Denis Haughey.

It was clear from early on Thursday that the SDLP veteran would be in difficulties. Long before the result was declared yesterday afternoon, Mr Haughey's fate was known.

When voting was complete, it was clear there was no change in the political shakedown in Mid Ulster. Sinn Féin retained three seats with the SDLP, UUP and DUP taking one each.

The constituency returned one newcomers in Sinn Féin's Geraldine Dougan, a mother-of-five from Maghera.


One of the biggest stories of the election was in north Antrim, where dozens of supporters carried a jubilant Philip McGuigan shoulder high in Ballymoney yesterday, minutes after he made history by becoming the first ever Sinn Féin North Antrim assembly member.

Although he fell just 105 votes short of being elected on the first count on Thursday, the 30-year-old Dunloy man had to wait until 2.20pm yesterday before confirmation of his seat.

Four seats had already been returned on Thursday, with the election of DUP father and son Ian Paisley and Ian Paisley jnr, the UUP's Robert Coulter and Mervyn Storey of the DUP.

Mirroring the wider trend within nationalism, Sinn Féin's vote rose dramatically in North Antrim with Mr McGuigan polling more votes than the SDLP's two candidates combined.

Mr McGuigan eventually made the quota with transfers from the SDLP's Declan O'Loan, who was eliminated at the ninth stage.

The significance of the Sinn Féin breakthrough in Ian Paisley's heartland seemed to be reflected at the official declaration. None of the four successful unionist candidates attended the ann-ouncement.

Afterwards Mr McGuigan said Mr Paisley was deluding himself by ``thinking he can ignore our voice by not attending the results''.

``Mr Paisley said yesterday that North Antrim had spoken and for once I agree with him,'' he said.

``While his thundering tone has been unchanged for years the Sinn Féin mouse has finally roared and will be quiet no longer.''

Mr McGuigan who celebrated his 30th birthday last week could hardly have asked for a better present.

He said party officials had always been confident of securing a seat despite pre-election predictions which gave Sinn Féin little chance of success.

``We knew the numbers were there if we could just get the people out,'' he said.

Mr McGuigan revealed that party colleagues from Dublin, Wexford, Tipperary and Cork who were all skilled in the intricacies of PR had joined the North Antrim campaign recently.

``That was a great help. The two lads from Dublin were here full-time for the past two weeks. We also made a point of visiting houses that had never been canvassed before, up long lanes, mountains or whatever.''

But there was some bad luck to the south, where Sinn Féin nearly made another breakthrough in South Antrim.

Though early indications looked good for Sinn Féin's Martin Meehan it just wasn't to be this time and David Ford of the Alliance Party pipped him to the post as he gathered the unionist preferences.

Although Meehan polled more first preference votes at a respectable 4,295, handily beating Donovan McClelland of the SDLP, the devil of the detail was the transfer of preferences.

After the marathon count Mr Meehan revealed he had received a death threat from the PSNI the night before.

``I was told by a PSNI officer that documents had been found that said the UVF was going to assassinate me. It is another one of many death threats I have received,'' he said matter of factly. But it didn't fizz him as he led into praises for his supporters and party workers, vowing ``I'll be back''.

``I'm heartened and delighted our vote has again increased in South Antrim. We hit the crossbar. The party workers were fantastic. This is good for the people of South Antrim and its inspiring. I still have plenty of fight left in me and I'll be back.''

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