Danny Kennedy took it firmly on the chin as his 32-year political career ended in the ashes of the Newry and Armagh election.
“Naturally I’m disappointed,” said the UUP’s deputy Assembly group leader. “But all good things come to an end.”
Bessbrook-born Kennedy – who served two terms as a Minister in the NI Assembly Executive - refused to lay the blame at the door of party leader Mike Nesbitt and his controversial call for UUP voters to transfer to SDLP.
Nor did he dwell on the bogus letter sent in his name to concur with Nesbitt.
“I accept defeat with honour, just as it was an honour to serve,” he said. “I knew that the Sinn Fein tide was rolling in fast and had an idea a unionist would be swept away, and that I would be that unionist.”
His assessment was right. The Sinn Fein trio of Cathal Boylan, Megan Fearon and Conor Murphy swept home, with Boylan making it on the first count and the others following suit soon afterwards. To crown a triumphant day for nationalists, the sole SDLP runner, GAA star Justin McNulty, joined them in the victory speeches.
The poll-topper, though, was William Irwin (DUP). And if Kennedy refused to criticise Mike Nesbitt, Mr Irwin more than made up for it. “It’s time Nesbitt rode into the sunset,” said an angry Irwin. “Danny Kennedy has been very measured in his reactions. But his party leader had let him down and the entire unionist family down.
“With his Cambridge education and background in broadcasting, Nesbitt has shown unbelievable naivety – his street wisdom is nil. Danny and I have been friends over the years, and I am sad to see him go. His political acumen is far above that of Mike Nesbitt, who frankly ruined his party’s election.”
The nationalists, though, said they would use their party strength to map a responsible, united way ahead. Former minister Conor Murphy said that Sinn Fein would work hard to reinforce the legacy of Martin McGuinness, “whose contribution to the peace process has been immeasurable.
“But Arlene Foster has shown total arrogance and lack of humility. Her refusal to step aside in the RHI scandal precipitated this election, and the Arlene factor has been prominent in the resurgence of Sinn Fein.”
Mr McNulty, a GAA legend in South Armagh, said he was delighted he had retained his seat in the light of the Sinn Fein surge.