It was perfect symmetry as the ABC (Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon) count was finally put to bed on Saturday night, with final year university student Phil Moutray taking one of the final spots.
His best friend and DUP colleague Johnny Buckley had, on Friday morning, romped into the first ABC seat, the only candidate to make it in on the first count in the Portadown DEA.
Twenty-two-year-old Moutray – “I’m two weeks younger than Johnny” – slipped in on the last stages of a tortuous 14-hour Lurgan count.
Both were co-opted at the turn of the year to fill the Craigavon Borough Council places of Upper Bann MLAs, Moutray’s father Stephen and Buckley’s mentor Sydney Anderson.
And as they embraced at the final success, they underlined that both were equal in the sight of politics: “Fully-fledged councillors in a new era, whatever our tallies,” they said.
Both ended their university studies this week – Moutray climaxing a business course and Buckley political history.
It all meant that ABC had finished 13 DUP, 12 UUP, eight Sinn Fein, six SDLP, and one apiece for UKIP and an Independent unionist.
The Lurgan marathon was a topsy-turvy affair, with three Sinn Fein, two DUP, one SDLP and one UUP eventually succeeding. It started with Carla Lockhart (DUP) storming home just before noon on 2,013 first preferences (1,438 quota), and setting the scene in the heavily nationalist area for a unionist counter-attack.
It wasn’t until 8pm that Joe Nelson (SDLP) took the second seat, and then Craigavon deputy mayor Colin McCusker (UUP) crossed the finishing line, followed by Moutray.
Sinn Fein made the final three seats after over-egging it with five candidates. Their victors were Keith Haughian, Catherine Seeley and Maire Cairns.
Earlier in the day, the Armagh ward saw Sinn Fein’s Garath Keating chalk up 2,298 first preferences – the best polling in the entire ABC constituency – and colleague Darren McNally joined him on the second tally. The SDLP’s Thomas O’Hanlon also succeeded on the first count and Mealla Ellen Campbell made it two-all in the nationalist stakes. Armagh deputy lord mayor Gerard Paul White (SF) failed to make it.
Sam Nicholson (UUP) – son of Euro candidate Jim – set the family standard as a new man to the political fold, but sitting UUP member Joy Rollston tumbled as a result. The DUP’s Freda Donnelly (the cathedral city’s first lord mayor) completed the half-dozen.
The Banbridge final tally of seven was a triumph for UUP vote management with a triple success.
Glenn Barr (poll-topper on 1,999) breezed in on the first count, with Ian Burns and Elizabeth Ingram joining him on the second round. As expected, DUP occupied two slots with Junior McCrum and Paul Greenfield, while the nationalist parties took the final two – Brendan Curran (SF) and Seamus Doyle (SDLP).
SDLP stalwart Joe Nelson said that the party had done exceptionally well throughout ABC to take six seats, against Sinn Fein’s eight.
“We retained our strength,” he said.
However, Sinn Fein were disappointed that they hadn’t garnered more. Sitting members Paul Duffy (Portadown), Tommy O’Connor (Craigavon) as well as Noel McGeown and Liam Mackle (Lurgan) all failed.
Brendan Curran said: “Our supporters didn’t come out in the numbers we had hoped, and they voted for the new candidates, leaving the established ones short of the line.”
The three wards counted on Saturday added to the four settled on Friday – Portadown, Lagan River, Cusher and Craigavon.