Unionist hardliner Arlene Foster has retained the DUP’s seat in the closely watched Enniskillen local council by-election.
Yesterday’s poll in Enniskillen was eagerly awaited as a measure of the state of the parties, given the ongoing crisis in the power-sharing administration at Stormont.
A low turnout ensured the seat, previously held by the late Joe Dodds, father of the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, remained in DUP hands.
The Presiding Officer announced that the DUP’s Economy Minister secured 3,165 votes, just short of the quota, after the second round of transfers.
She defeated the challenge of Sinn Féin candidate Debbie Coyle, who ended with a tally of 2,383.
The total turnout for the contest in the County Fermanagh Lakeland area was well down at around 50 per cent, with just 6,380 people voting in yesterday’s poll.
The low turnout, particularly by SDLP voters, was blamed on the fact that just one seat was up for election, compared to the full complement of seven council seats in 2005.
Although Sinn Féin maintained its share of the vote, the poor showing by the SDLP’s Rosemary Flanagan ensured there was little chance of an upset win for nationalists.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster received 1,925 first preference votes, ahead of Sinn Féin’s Debbie Coyle, who got 1,815 first preferences with the Ulster Unionist Party’s Basil Johnston receiving 1,436 votes.
The SDLP’s Rosemary Flanagan received just 739 -- less than half the number the party secured in the previous council elections in 2005.
Alliance Party candidate Dr Kumar Kamble polled 231 votes, while 18-year-old independent candidate Karen McHugh received a creditable 158 votes.
The ultra-hardline Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) opted not to contest the election to avoid splitting the unionist vote.
The DUP had argued that the election should not have been held at all. Mrs Foster said she was “absolutely delighted” at the result.
“If I take anything from this election, it’s that the unionist community rallied around the fact that we had called for unionist co-operation and I think that’s been tremendous,” she added.
Ms Coyle said she was disappointed that the seat had not gone to Sinn Féin.
“But I’m pleased that our vote is higher than last time,” she said. “That means our campaign went well and gives us a strong footing for future elections in Enniskillen and across Fermanagh.”
Result (First count):
Foster - DUP: 1,925 (30.2%)
Coyle - SF: 1,815 (28.4%)
Johnston - UUP: 1,436 (22.5%)
Flanagan - SDLP: 739 (11.6%)
Kamble - All.: 231 (3.6%)
McHugh -Ind.: 158 (2.5%)
Previous result (2005):
SF: 2,486 (28.5%)
DUP: 2,454 (28.2%)
UUP: 1,785 (20.5%)
SDLP: 1,584 (18.2%)
Socialist: 406 (4.7%)