Comment: Wide ranging emotion during a long, long day

Diane Dodds pictured at the European Election count at the King's Hall in Belfast
Diane Dodds pictured at the European Election count at the King's Hall in Belfast

It was a long day at the European count at the King’s Hall yesterday, and one in which the range of emotions on display was even more dramatic than is usual at the conclusion of an election.

For the Ulster Unionists, for example, a day that started off buoyantly (following their council result revival) ended in frustration with a disappointing European poll for incumbent MEP Jim Nicholson.

When Mike Nesbitt spoke angrily at 10.30pm at the slowness of the count, his mood had hardly been helped by the fact that Mr Nicholson’s vote was such that it will be today before he is confirmed in his return to Strasbourg.

There was highly charged emotion in and around the NI21 contingent also.

A somewhat glum but polite John McCallister was at the count Hall early, conceding — before there was any real indication of actual results — that their candidate Tina McKenzie would do badly.

Later a somewhat cheerful Basil McCrea arrived with NI21 associates, including two young people in wheelchairs, saying that he wanted to demonstrate his support for NI21 candidates and voters, but insisting that he could not talk about the controversies that engulfed the party just before polling day (he said that this was because he had issued legal proceedings, but he declined to divulge more).

Ms McKenzie herself was in evidence through the afternoon, smiling despite what must have been an uncomfortable end to a traumatic week.

An early indication that counting was taking unexpectedly long to reach conclusion came well into the afternoon when the election expert Nicholas Whyte said aloud that he understood the three Baltic states were the only other parts of the EU that had not declared their results.

The media had expected the first count as early as 1.30pm but the results were only read out at 6.20pm.

The slowness of proceedings (which some critics attribute to incompetence and others say is due to the intricacy of tallying under the single transferable vote system used in Northern Ireland) meant that it was well after midday before there was an indication of the extent to which Mr Nicholson’s position as second-placed unionist was under threat from Jim Allister.

The TUV leader’s unexpected triumph in the 2009 Euro elections had seemed to fade into the past after the poor TUV results in the 2010 Westminster election and the Stormont polls the next year.

At one point yesterday afternoon, Mr Allister was rumoured to have taken second unionist place after Diane Dodds. In the event, after his 76,000 vote total had been revealed, the TUV man insisted that he had surpassed his own expectations, despite falling 8,000 votes short of the UUP.

In a replay of the scenes at Belfast City Hall on Friday in which Sinn Fein supporters were the loudest celebrants, but which DUP supporters tried to match in volume, there were outbursts of cheering by activists of the two parties yesterday.

A decibel counter was needed to assess which set of fans was noisier when their candidates’ hefty vote totals were announced as those first results were finally declared.

Much later, after midnight,the hall was much quieter and mostly empty when ongoing counting was suspended until this morning.