ELECTION 2022: East Antrim – The Beggs dynasty comes crashing down after four decades... but colleague touts a comeback

Roy Beggs in a pre-election message this weekRoy Beggs in a pre-election message this week
Roy Beggs in a pre-election message this week
A comrade of Roy Beggs has voiced hope that the erstwhile MLA – who has lost the seat he held for 24 years – will make a return to politics.

The Ulster Unionist veteran had been one of the party’s key figures in the constituency ever since he topped the poll in the 1998 Assembly election, coming in with 5,764 first-preference votes at the time.

His vote has held up well throughout the decades – in 2017 he polled some 5,121 first preference ballots.

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But yesterday Mr Beggs – who was deputy speaker in the last Assembly – learned his place in Stormont has come to an end... and it was no nail-biter, either: he was excluded in only the second round of counting.

It brings a close to the Beggs mini-dynasty started by his father Roy Snr, who won a seat in the constituency for the failed 1982 Assembly, before going on to serve as the area’s MP from 1983 to 2005.

However, this collapse in vote was not mirrored for his running mate John Stewart, who only arrived in Stormont in 2017, and who increased his first-preference votes by close to 3,000.

Robbie Butler, another successful UUP MLA (who took a seat in Lagan Valley) has told the News Letter: “I’ll very much miss Roy. He was a really good friend of mine in terms of mentoring me from when I entered the Assembly in 2016.

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“He’s an awful lot of experience, and the Assembly will be poorer for not having Roy Beggs there.

“He has a lot to offer.”

On the idea that he may have some kind of political comeback, Mr Butler said: “I certinaly hope so. The Beggs name is synonymous with the [East Antrim] area.

“I hope Roy Beggs tonight, whilst I’m sure he’ll be suffering a little bit, I hope he rises again and comes back and gives it another go.”

Meanwhile, the DUP brought home two MLAs, as was expected, with Gordon Lyons topping the first-preference table and Davy Hilditch not far behind.

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And for Alliance, last night’s count (which went on until about 10.30pm) was a historic one – it marks the first time that it has taken two seats in the constituency, reducing the unionist grasp on the seat from four (two DUP and two UUP) to three.

However, unionists may at least take heart from the fact that Oliver McMullan, Sinn Fein’s inveterate challenger in East Antrim, was denied a seat.

He won a place in the 2016 election only to lose it again the following year, and last night could not muster enough transfers to repeat the trick, keeping the seat free of pro-Irish unity representation.

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