Tears streamed down the cheeks of DUP’s Carla Lockhart, the only one of the 12 Upper Bann candidates to make it on the first count, as she embraced party workers and family – a replica of her success last May.
“It’s my third first count victory in a row,” she said, the first being her spectacular success in the ABC council poll in 2014. “I’m truly humbled and thanks every single voter who supported me.
“There was no need for this election. The problems could have been resolved. I rarely heard the RHI heating mentioned on the doorsteps. The electorate didn’t want this poll, but DUP supporters in Upper Bann have increased our vote.
“And with my running mate Jonny Buckley – the youngest candidate in the election - certain to follow me home, it’s a whopping vote of confidence. We won’t be conceding in any negotiations that follow. Sinn Fein were only interested in their own agenda.
“We must now focus on the real issues – education, health and all the rest and get Northern Ireland moving again.”
Ms Lockhart waltzed home with 9,140 first preferences in an 8592 quota, with Buckley on 7,745. But the unionist ‘family’ were victims in the reduction from six to five seats, with the UUP’s Jo-Anne Dobson (5467) and Doug Beattie (5132) neck-in-neck. That one was set for a late count, with just one of the sitting UUP MLAs making it.
The highest-placed of the nationalist was Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd, sitting confidently on 8,220 first preferences, along with colleague Nuala Toman (6108). It was looking like déjà vu from May when SDLP’s Dolores Kelly tumbled at the end, but she was making optimistic noises that transfers from Alliance could see her through. “We increased our vote in Upper Bann significantly from nine months ago,” she said. “We’re very encouraged.”
The rest were also-rans from the start, with Tara Doyle (Alliance) making the most impact on 2720 and TUV’s Roy Ferguson just making four figures (1035). The rest fell early – Colin Craig (Workers Party), Lee Simon (Green) and Ian Nickels (Conservative).