North Down: Greens’ Steven Agnew almost doubles his vote

The victorious Green Party leader in Northern Ireland, Steven Agnew. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye

The victorious Green Party leader in Northern Ireland, Steven Agnew. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye

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As counting resumed in North Down on Saturday morning, Green Party leader Steven Agnew did not have long to wait before confirmation came that he would be joining his South Belfast colleague Clare Bailey in Stormont.

With Alex Easton and Gordon Dunne home on Friday for the DUP, that left their running mate Peter Weir, Alliance former Minister Stephen Farry and former independent and first time Ulster Unionist Alan Chambers the most likely to secure the remaining three seats.

Mr Agnew almost doubled his vote from 2,207 in 2011 to 4,109.

He said: “Five years ago in North Down I felt I was elected on a promise and now I feel very much it’s an endorsement on the delivery of that promise at Stormont and in the constituency.

“I have worked with Clare for a long time but I am delighted she is now going to be with me on the Assembly benches. She has been a tireless campaigner in South Belfast with a few narrow misses so to see her get such a strong endorsement to knock out the deputy leader of another party {the SDLP’s Fearghal McKinney] it’s ben a great confidence boost for her and an endorsement of the work that she has done.”

While the predicted revival of centre parties may not have happened, Mr Agnew said his party’s success, coupled with the election of two People Before Profit candidates, showed that issue politics was alive and well in the province.

“I think people have voted for something new and I think we’re going to see a new, stronger opposition voice in what has become affectionately known as the Naughty Corner,” he said.

“I have shown that with one MLA you can achieve change, I have brought through a Private Members Bill – the Children’s Bill became law in December – and I led the way in marriage equality bringing forward the first ever motion and forcing parties who didn’t want to talk about the issue.

“It’s often been said in Northern Ireland that there’s no opposition and I believe that I and others have proved that wrong and we will do again.”

Close to lunchtime, the waiting was over for the DUP’s Peter Weir and the UUP’s Alan Chambers who were carried through on the transfers from Mr Chambers’ running mate Carl McClean.

Mr Weir said the DUP had run a positive campaign and that people had given a huge endorsement to the leadership of Arlene Foster.

“I think first of all people were happy locally with the work that we put in at constituency level but I think people were backing the vision of Arlene Foster in terms of taking Northern Ireland forward in a positive manner.”

Making his speech after the final declaration, long time independent and now Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chambers wasted no time in dealing with one issue.

“There have been rumours flying round the last few days, when will Chambers become an independent again and, in fact, I believe that some people were wanting to know if the bookies were offering odds.

“Guys, keep your money in your pocket; I’m a proud member of the Ulster Unionist Party and I will be remaining a proud member of the Ulster Unionist Party. That might disappoint Paddy Power but that’s the way it is.”

For Stephen Farry, retaining an Alliance presence in North Down was important but as a former minister he was under no illusions as to the task facing the Assembly and the province.

“Things are going to be very interesting in North Down and Northern Ireland over the coming years,” he said.

“North Down has a number of major challenges ahead of it in terms of investment and ensuring that all of us are delivering in terms of the social and economic issues that are facing the constituency.”

Across the province he said there were also issues to addressed.

“Northern Ireland is not yet in a place where it should be 18 years after the Good Friday Agreement. We need to see a lot more delivery and it needs to happen a lot faster than has been the case in the past.”