Atwood loses seat and claims he let the SDLP down

Alex Atwood lost his seat in nationalist-dominated West Belfast
Alex Atwood lost his seat in nationalist-dominated West Belfast

The SDLP’s Alex Atwood said he felt he had let his party and West Belfast down as he lost his Assembly seat.

Mr Atwood was one of a number of big political names to miss out as the number of MLAs was cut from 108 to 90.

He said he would carry the weight of the defeat for a very long period of time.

Mr Atwood was first elected to the Assembly in 1998 and twice sat in the Executive. He was Stormont’s environment minister from 2010 to 2011 and later social development minister from 2011 to 2013.

The party’s share of the vote actually increased by 1.3% across Northern Ireland but it was not enough for Mr Atwood to hold his seat.

He was one of few candidates who took to the stage to give a concession speech at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, congratulating Sinn Fein and thanking his family for their support.

Sinn Fein’s vote surged in the constituency as the party took back the seat it lost in the previous Assembly election last year.

Orlaithi Flynn, who was co-opted into the Assembly in December, topped the poll and was elected on the first count with 6,918 first preference votes.

When the final results were announced, Sinn Fein held four of the five seats. Alex Maskey, Fra McCann and Pat Sheehan were also returned. Flynn said their success constituted a vote against Brexit and for designated status within the EU. She added there could be no return to the status quo.

Frank McCoubrey of the DUP gained 4,063 votes but he was unable to secure enough transfers to mount a challenge for the final seat.

The DUP’s share of the vote was almost unchanged, leaving the constituency once again without unionist representation.

People Before Profit were penalised by voters, dropping from 22.9% of the vote share to 14.9%, although Gerry Carroll was successfully reelected.

Mr Carroll said the campaign against the party had been “relentless” in West Belfast, having earlier said the party’s position on the EU had been misrepresented.

People Before Profit’s risk of running two candidates hadn’t paid off, Mr Carroll conceded. Michael Collins ran alongside Mr Carroll in the hope of increasing the party’s share of the vote but he received just over 1,000 votes.

In a similar trend to the rest of the Province, turnout in Belfast West was 10% higher than in the previous Assembly election, just 10 months ago.

Alliance gained around 400 additional votes than in 2016, when the party polled less than 300.

The Green Party was also unable to make significant inroads, with candidate Ellen Murray’s share of first preferences decreasing slightly.