West Belfast: McCoubrey narrowly loses the last seat

Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit Alliance is elected in West Belfast. 
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit Alliance is elected in West Belfast. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Frank McCoubrey came tantalisingly close to winning a seat for unionism in West Belfast last night.

It had seemed for much of the day that the DUP candidate might have unseated the long-standing SDLP MLA Alex Attwood.

He almost did, coming within 89 votes of Mr Attwood at the end of stage eight after 11pm last night, which was the final phase of the count.

Mr McCoubrey had failed to repeat the triumph of Diane Dodds, who clinched the last West Belfast seat for the DUP in 2003 by a similarly tiny vote margin.

Mr McCoubrey stayed in the race right to the end, benefitting from the refusal of many Sinn Fein voters to transfer to the SDLP, which meant that Mr Attwood continued to struggle after the various Sinn Fein candidates were elected.

But Sinn Fein had a scare of its own, when Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit spectacularly topped the poll.

He inflicted this extraordinary defeat on Sinn Fein in its West Belfast heartland, not only taking his Stormont seat on the first count but easily outpolling the five SF candidates.

Mr Carroll got more than twice as many votes, 8,299, as some of the Sinn Fein candidates and was 3,500 votes clear of the top SF performer, Alex Maskey, who got 4,769 votes.

He is set to sit in the Assembly alongside his likely victorious party colleague in Foyle, Eamonn McCann, who seemed almost certain to win a seat in the North West.

Sinn Fein, however, pointed out that its overall tally put it far out in front in terms of first preference votes in West Belfast, a total of 19,762 votes.

This was divided five ways, and was not enough to maintain its 2011 tally of five seats. Pat Sheehan was elected after the former Lord Mayor Mr Maskey and then Jennifer McCann and Fra McCann won election later.

Rosie McCorley was the only unelected Sinn Fein candidate.

Paul Maskey, the former Sinn Fein MLA and now Westminster MP for the constituency, told the News Letter: “They [People Before Profit] have done well, there’s no doubt about it. But our vote has held steady.”

Mr Maskey added: “Much of the People Before Profit vote came from the SDLP.”

The first preference results in West Belfast were as follows:

• Alex Attwood (SDLP) 2,647

• Conor Campbell (Workers Party) 532

• Gerry Carroll (People Before Profit Alliance) 8299

• Jemima Higgins (Alliance) 291

• Gareth Martin (UUP) 654

• Alex Maskey (Sinn Fein) 4,769

• Fra McCann (Sinn Fein) 4,028

• Jennifer McCann (Sinn Fein) 4,386

• Rosie McCorley (Sinn Fein) 3,053

• Frank McCoubrey (DUP) 3,766

• Ellen Murray (Green) 327

• Pat Sheehan (Sinn Fein) 3,516