The political geography of the north of Ireland has been rewritten following the Westminster election as Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists entirely obliterated the smaller parties, with Sinn Fein emerging as the biggest winner with three extra seats.
Amid the flux and crisis of British politics, the result has underlined the polarised nature of elections in the north of Ireland. Only independent unionist North Down MP Sylvia Hermon survived the surge to the larger parties.
The DUP started off with eight seats and now they have ten, winning three of the four Belfast constituencies and taking all three in County Antrim.
All of the border constituencies, as well as those west of the River Bann are now held by Sinn Fein, as the party went from four to seven seats.
While unionists still hold eleven Westminster seats, as before, their overall vote share dipped below 50% for the first time in a Westminster election, fuelling calls for a ‘border poll’ referendum on Irish unity.
Michelle Gildernew’s achievement in recapturing the seat in Fermanagh/South Tyrone once held by Bobby Sands from Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott was arguably the most significant win, but even that was overshadowed by the stunning result in Foyle of Elisha McCallion (pictured, left) all but ending the SDLP’s dynasty in the constituency.
The sense of loss evident on the face of defeated SDLP candidate Mark Durkan was reflected across the mainstream media, where few had predicted the rise of the popular advocate for young people and women.
That confrontation between a youthful Sinn Fein candidate and a political war-horse from the SDLP was replayed in South Down, where Chris Hazzard capitalised on years of hard work to depose Margaret Ritchie in an equally historic transition.
Across the republican heartlands, the Sinn Fein vote rose once again, increasing in each of the North’s 18 constituencies. The SDLP’s share continued to decline, raising questions over the future of the smaller nationalist party almost 50 years since it was formed out of the civil rights movement.
On the other side of the political divide, the Ulster Unionist Party’s demise mirrored that of the SDLP with the loss of both of its MPs, Tom Elliott in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Danny Kinahan in South Antrim.
Following on top of Emma Little-Pengelly’s victory in South Belfast and Paul Girvan regaining South Antrim for the party, the DUP was cock-a-hoop to emerge as Westminster ‘king-makers’.
Re-elected DUP MPs David Simpson and Jim Shannon began their acceptance speeches with lengthy thanks to God, while Union Jacks were waved at every opportunity.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams praised Michelle O’Neill and the party’s candidates and their families for their outstanding performance in the election.
“This was a truly national effort by Sinn Fein and I want to thank all of our activists who travelled from all parts of the island to help secure this historic result for the party,” he said.
“Sinn Fein respects the mandate we have received and our electorate who voted in such huge numbers.
“Nationalists and Republicans have turned their back on Westminster and accept that that centre of political gravity is now on the island of Ireland.
“The Taoiseach and DUP need to focus on restoring the political institutions.
“Theresa May sought a mandate for Brexit, austerity and the erosion of human rights. She got her comeuppance.
“The Irish government needs to seize the initiative to secure designated special status for the North as part of the Brexit negotiations.”