The result of the election in east Belfast has delivered a major shock with the defeat of DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson by Naomi Long of the Alliance Party.
Ms Long won the seat by about 1,500 votes after doubling her vote and winning the support of a large number of loyalists, former DUP supporters as well as moderate unionists.
The result was an evident reprisal by voters against Robinson over the intense scandals over his wife’s extra-marital affair and the corruption allegations repeatedly levelled against both Mr and Mrs Robinson.
The result is certainly the greatest shock of the Westminster election so far and came as the third of the constituencies in the North to declare. Adding salt to the DUP leader, the party is said to have performed very strongly.
“Of course people wil draw their won conclusions,” Mr Robinson said of the result.
He said he had preferred not to stand in this election, and that “in politics you have to be careful what you wish for”.
“I have a job to do and a jobo to complete with my mandate in the assembly, he said, adding that was “vital for Northern Ireland that we continue to move forward” and not return to the “bad old days”.
In an apparant reference to the negotiations which are expected to follow a hung parliament at Westminster, he concluded by saying: “I will always do my best to get the best deal for Northern Ireland”.
Ms Long said her vote was “a vote for something positive” in Northern Ireland. She said her small moderate unionist Alliance Party had “come of age” with its first seat at Westminster.
In the first result declared tonight in the North, Sinn Fein’s Pat Doherty was re-elected as MP for west Tyrone, doubling his majority over the DUP’s Tom Buchanan on an increased personal vote.
Doherty secured over 18,000 votes, an increase of a thousand votes. He said the result was “another magnificent victory for Sinn Fein in West Tyrone”. Turnout in the constituency fell sharply, from 73% to just over 60%.
IAN K. PAISLEY MP
In North Antrim, Ian Paisley Jr secured an emphatic victory for the DUP and gave credit for his success to “one of the greatest Ulstermen ever”, his father, Ian Paisley Sr.
Speaking with his familiar strident voice, Ian Paisley Sr said the ultra-hardline Traditional Unionist Voice had been “crowing” about what they woud achieve, particularly in the Paisley heartland, where party leader Jim Allister had stood. “They are not crowing now,” he said.
Allister was defeated by a two-to-one margin. Speaking to the BBC, he said if the unionist community had supported “terrorists in government” then that would be “a matter of great regret which they will come to regret”.
The Paisley victory was greeted with hymn-singing by DUP supporters. Turnout was 58%, down 7%.
In Upper Bann, Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd is understood to have polled strongly. Although he fell short of winning the seat from the DUP’s David Simpson, he said “in the future, commentators won’t be able to say, nationalists dont have a chance” in the constituency.
STILL MOT EMPEY?
In South Antrim, Willie McCrea was said to be “relaxed” about retaining his seat in the face of an apparently failing challenge by Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey. It was reported by count watchers that the Alliance Party vote in the constituency had failed to swing behind Empey, as had been hoped by the Ulster Unionists.
In North Down, independent candidate Sylvia Hermon is accepted to have retained the seat on a larger majority. Hermon, who quit the Ulster Unionists following its alliance with the British Conservatives, apparently benefited from a wave of sympathy for her position in the traditionally maverick constituency.
In south Belfast, the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell is broadly accepted to have held the seat, while Fermanagh/South Tyrone is said to be too close to call.
The centre in Derry was evacuated tonight and counting suspended after a suspicious car was found abandoned close to the count centre.
The area surrounding the Templemore Sports Complex has been closed and British army technical unit are at the scene. Counting for the Foyle constituency in Derry is likely to resume later this morning, according to the local returning officer.
A controlled explosion was carried out on the vehicle at 12.30am tonight. The incident followed a number of attacks and hoaxes in recent days blamed on ‘dissident’ republican armed organisations.