All three of Northern Ireland’s outgoing European MPs have been re-elected for another term after a marathon count in Belfast.
After 25 hours of counting in the King’s Hall in Belfast, Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson was confirmed at just before 6pm yesterday as the third incumbent to book his ticket back to Brussels.
Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson emerged victorious after the first round of counting on Monday and the DUP’s Diane Dodds was declared elected yesterday afternoon.
All three were loudly cheered by supporters as their successes in the 10-candidate race were announced.
The election, with an unusually high number of pro-Union candidates, saw intriguing voting patterns and an overall increase in the unionist vote.
Mr Nicholson was eventually elected 41,259 votes ahead of the SDLP’s Alex Attwood, a margin so substantial that it largely disproved the suggestion of some pundits that Mr Attwood could benefit from the split in the unionist vote.
In fact, as each unionist candidate was eliminated, the votes largely moved up to the DUP, UUP and TUV.
While it would have been possible for the TUV to have taken the seat, had Jim Allister polled slightly better or Mr Nicholson’s vote fallen slightly further, once one of them was knocked out of the race, their numerous transfers were always overwhelmingly likely to bring the other over the line.
Mrs Anderson, noting that Sinn Fein was on course to win four seats across the island of Ireland, hailed her party’s performance.
“The voice of the voters has been heard throughout Ireland, they have endorsed the Sinn Fein message that there is a fair way,” she said.
“The Sinn Fein result is part of a national story reflecting the growth of support for Sinn Fein’s strategy for change. There will be a national Sinn Fein team of MEPs going to Europe who will put Ireland first – north, south, east and west.”
Mrs Dodds said she would fight to secure the best deal for Northern Ireland in Europe.
“The DUP has always been a Eurosceptic party, we are not Johnny-come-latelys to Euroscepticism,” she said.
“What we do believe is that this election really wasn’t about whether we are in Europe or out of Europe.
“This election was really about who would go back to Europe to get the best deal for Northern Ireland, to work hard for Northern Ireland, to stand up for Northern Ireland and that’s what I will be doing, as well as continuing my campaign for a referendum to give the British people their democratic say on our relationship with Europe.”
Speaking to UTV last night, Mrs Dodds made a point of thanking those who had voted for another candidate as their first preference, but had giver her a lower preference vote.
“I’m delighted that I got 131,000 first preference votes, I thank those people in Northern Ireland who went out and they trusted me and gave me those votes,” she said.
“Those people when they were voting for other candidates chose to give them preferences, so I’m thanking those as well, [because] they chose to give me their preferences on number two and number three; that’s what got me over the line.”
Mr Nicholson, who has been a Euro MP for 25 years, said: “I am the longest serving member ever elected in Northern Ireland. I look forward to taking up the challenge because the next five years are going to be very challenging in Europe to get change and hopefully get a referendum.”
He insisted that the UUP was also in good shape on the back of his win and gains in the local government election.
“The party’s health is the best it’s been for many a long day,” he added.
The count, which used the single transferable vote method, was suspended close to 1am yesterday after almost 16 hours counting and resumed at 9am. The result of the eighth and final stage of counting was announced at 6pm.
The election, which had a higher than expected turnout of 51.8 per cent, largely because the council elections were held on the same day, is the first time Northern Ireland has voted for three years.