East Belfast: Alliance polls strongly but the DUP stays top with three seats

Counting is under way at the Titanic Convention centre in Belfast.''Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Counting is under way at the Titanic Convention centre in Belfast.''Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

The DUP has been victorious in East Belfast with three Assembly seats, quashing rumours that they might have struggled to match their 2011 Stormont tally.

But it was likely that Chris Lyttle would be joining Naomi Long, who was elected on the first count with 5,482 votes (just behind Joanne Bunting of the DUP who topped the poll with 5,538 votes).

The two other DUP candidates, Sammy Douglas and Robin Newton, had not been formally elected by midnight last night but were clearly set to get back to the Assembly.

It is a sign of Alliance’s recent confidence in East Belfast that they seemed somewhat deflated as the day wore on with a result that saw them not so far behind the DUP in terms of first preference votes and more than double the UUP.

The three combined DUP candidates got 13,643 votes in the constituency, which is one of their traditional strongholds.

The Alliance trio totalled 10,659 first preferences.

The two Ulster Unionist candidates were far behind, on 4,142 votes, in a seat in which they were once the largest party.

In the 1979 Westminster general election won by Peter Robinson, propelling his career, he took it off the UUP incumbent William Craig by a mere 64 votes, with Alliance close behind.

East Belfast has long been Alliance’s strongest seat in terms of vote percentage, but its support reached an all-time high in last year’s general election when Naomi Long polled 17,000 votes in comparison to 19,500 for Gavin Robinson of the DUP.

But the party was not able to match that success yesterday by bringing in both Chris Lyttle and Tim Morrow behind Mrs Long. Mr Morrow had still not been eliminated by 11pm last night but his hopes of a seat were gone.

The Ulster Unionist candidate Andy Allen out-polled his party colleague, the UUP veteran Chris McGimpsey, by almost three to one: 3,047 votes to 1,095 votes.

This seemed almost certain to get him a UUP seat, although such an outcome did not look guaranteed early in the day.

By the end of stage nine late last night, Mr Allen had risen to 3,521 votes, putting him ahead of Mr Lyttle on 3,243 and Ross Brown of the Greens on 2,935.

This was the three-way battle for that sixth seat.

Mr Brown’s vote was one of the major breakthroughs of the election.

He got 2,183 first preference votes, which was a sizable total for a candidate from a smaller party.

It seemed not quite enough, however, to bring the Green Party Belfast councillor into Stormont alongside his leader Steven Agnew in North Down and his colleague Clare Bailey in South Belfast.

A number of smaller party candidates or independents polled respectably in the first count, led by John Kyle of the PUP, the party’s former leader, on 1,772 votes.

Maggie Hutton, a former Ulster Unionist and office manager for Andy Allen, got 1,099 votes.

The TUV and Ukip candidates will have been disappointed not to have reached the 1,000 vote mark. The former, Andrew Girvan, got 887 votes while the latter, Johnny Lavery trailed on 631.

This still put him ahead of Neil Wilson, the Conservative candidate, who got 477 votes, less than half his general election tally of over 1,000 votes, which was a notable result in 2015 given that smaller candidates were squeezed by the Naomi Long-Gavin Robinson head-to-head.

Mr Wilson this time trailed by 40 votes Courtney Robinson of the Cross-Community Labour Alternative, who picked up 477 first preferences.

Erskine Homes of the NI Labour Representative Committee came bottom of the poll with 78 votes.

A final tally of three DUP, two Alliance and one Ulster Unionist seemed the probable final position at midnight, as Mr McGimpsey was eliminated.

In East Belfast, the first preference votes in the first round of counting were:

• Andy Allen (UUP) 3,047

• Ross Brown (Green) 2,183

• Joanne Bunting (DUP) 5,538

• Amy Doherty (SDLP) 141

• Sammy Douglas (DUP) 4,230

• Andrew Girvan (TUV) 887

• Erskine Holmes (NI Lab Rep Comm) 78

• Maggie Hutton (Ind.) 1,099

• John Kyle (PUP) 1772

• Jonny Lavery (UKIP) 631

• Naomi Long (Alliance) 5,482

• Chris Lyttle (Alliance) 2,805

• Chris McGimpsey (UUP) 1,095

• Tim Morrow (Alliance) 2372

• Robin Newton (DUP) 3,875

• Niall Ó Donnghaile (SF) 946

• Courtney Robinson (Cross-Comm Lab Alt) 517

• Neil Wilson (Cons) 477