The north of Ireland has voted for more nationalists than unionists in a Westminster parliamentary election for the first time after two hardline unionists were voted out.
It was a historic night but a terrible one for the DUP, which lost its crucial influencing role with the Tory government and saw the ouster of its extreme deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, by Sinn Féin, in the most dramatic result of the night.
Both seats lost by the DUP were in Belfast, which now has three nationalist MPs to a single unionist MP.
The final seat of the 18 in the Six Counties to declare was Fermanagh and South Tyrone, where Michelle Gildernew of Sinn Féin held the seat by just 57 votes from the Ulster Unionist Party after a recount.
As a result, unionists now hold fewer seats than nationalists, with Sinn Féin holding its total 7 MPs and the SDLP electing 2 MPs.
The confirmation of Belfast as a predominately nationalist city, and the return of a nationalist majority of MPs will have sent shockwaves across the Irish sea. It has all amounted to a seismic transformation in Anglo-Irish politics to ranks alongside the 1918 ‘Sinn Féin election’.
In a highly symbolic moment, Mr Dodds (below, right) lost his seat to John Finucane (below, left), the son of one of the highest-profile victims of 30 years of Britain’s covert ‘Dirty War’. Mr Finucane became the first nationalist MP ever to be returned in North Belfast.
To emphasise the scale of the transformation, the Sinn Féin party of the time contested the Westminster election here in 1924 and won 3% of the vote, against 97% for the Ulster Unionist candidate.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was very disappointed at the defeat and blamed “demographic changes” as well as a “pan-nationalist front”.
Her use of the phrase was controversial, as it was previously used by loyalists to justify the sectarian murder of innocent Catholics. But the comment formed a natural end-point to a vicious campaign by the DUP, which included hate-filled banners targeting Mr Finucane and his family. It ultimately backfired when Mr Finucane added 4,000 onto his tally of just two years ago, while Nigel Dodds’ lost the support of moderate unionists to Alliance’s Nuala McAllister.
In south Belfast, the SDLP’s Claire Hanna (above, right) romped home with a huge majority over DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly (above, left) in another historic transformation for politics in Belfast. The DUP’s vote declined sharply elsehere, with the once-safe majority of party negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson falling from 19,000 to just 6,000 in Lagan Valley. Amid the backlash, the DUP also missed what should have been an easy gain in north Down.
With the party’s influence in Westminster now gone, the party has looked desperate for a return of Stormont and their unionist veto there. Talks to revive the Belfast Assembly are due to begin on Monday.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald thanked all of her party’s candidates, activists and voters. Despite a decline in her party’s vote share, she described the election results as a “defining moment in our politics” and that it was now “impossible” to ignore demands for a poll on Irish unity.
“This was an historic election and a defining moment in our politics,” she said. “Brexit has changed the political landscape in Ireland, in Britain and in Europe. All the old certainties are gone.”
Aontú also thanked its supporters after finishing ahead of other small parties such as People Before Profit and the Greens following a one-third increase in its vote since the local elections six months ago. “To all our candidates, canvassers and helpers, mile buiochas as gach rud,” they wrote.
DUP 8 (-2) 30.6% (-5.4%)
SF 7 (-) 22.8% (-6.7%)
SDLP 2 (+2) 14.9% (+3.1%)
Alliance 1 (+1) 16.8% (+8.8%)
UUP 0 (-) 11.7% (+1.4%)
Aontú 0 (-) 1.2% (+1.2%)