John Finucane has taken the north Belfast Westminster seat from the DUP’s Nigel Dodds in a stunning victory for Sinn Féin and a historic election for nationalism in the north of Ireland.
The DUP has also lost a second seat in south Belfast, losing heavily to the SDLP in what has become a disastrous election for the hardline unionist party. It also failed to make a widely expected gain in North Down, falling well short of the Alliance Party.
Speaking after the shock result was declared in the ‘cockpit’ constituency of north Belfast, John Finucane said his election by almost two thousand votes was a “surreal experience”.
He recalled his father, who was murdered by a British-directed death squad in 1989, and said he wanted to pay particular tribute to his family and to his mother, who accompanied him to the count centre.
“I can’t help but think of my father and think of where we have come from, not just as a family, but as a society,” he said. He recognised his election had been due to a “positive campaign” that “transcended party politics”, and vowed to “work for every single person in this constituency”.
Despite a major victory for Boris Johnson’s Brexit agenda in Britain, it was a very good day for the anti-Brexit campaign in the north of Ireland. The moderate unionist and anti-Brexit Alliance Party polled very strongly across the north, with the party returning to Westminster in the form of their deputy leader Stephen Farry. He secured a huge increase in the party’s vote share in north Down, claiming all of the vote of the former MP independent unionist Sylvia Hermon, who had announced her retirement. Despite another big increase in the Alliance vote in east Belfast, it narrowly failed to take the seat there from the DUP’s Gavin Robinson.
However, the SDLP can argue that they are the main winner of the election, ending with two seats after starting with none.
The result has yet to be officially declared, but party leader Colum Eastwood will retake the party’s traditional powerbase in the Derry constituency of Foyle from Sinn Féin’s Elisha McCallion. The SDLP’s Claire Hanna also achieved a transformative victory in South Belfast against the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly, winning by more than 15,000 votes.
However, the SDLP were successfully held off in South Down by Sinn Féin’s Chris Hazzard by a margin of some two thousand votes.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party had fought a “very positive” campaign about the future that sent a “strong message” that the North “hasn’t consented to Brexit”.
She said she was disappointed with the loss of a seat in Foyle but “beidh lá eile ann” [there will be another day].
Amid a drop in the vote for the DUP and Sinn Féin in most constituencies, the two large parties look set to hold their seats elsewhere. However, there is still a big fly in the ointment for Sinn Féin in Fermanagh South Tyrone, where Michelle Gildernew is facing a nail-biter and likely recount against Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott in the constituency. An estimated twenty votes separate the two candidates.
So with Fermanagh South Tyrone the only unknown of the 18 constituencies at this point, the seat totals now stand as follows:
Sinn Féin 6