Election 2022: Poots takes South Belfast seat but memories of Stalford hurt

The DUP’s Edwin Poots last night retained the South Belfast seat held by the late Christopher Stalford.

By Henry McDonald
Saturday, 7th May 2022, 6:37 am

Mr Poots polled 7,217 votes, and got the transfers he needed to get over the line in the fifth round.

The TUV candidate Andrew Girvin more than doubled the party’s performance in the constituency from the 2017 Assembly election with 1,935 votes.

Acknowledging the rise in the TUV vote share, Mr Poots said: “It’s something we in the DUP will have to work on in terms of losing some votes to the TUV.”

Edwin Poots with his wife Glynis at the count centre at Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast .

Reflecting on the loss of Mr Stalford whose family urged the DUP to nominate him for the constituency, Mr Poots said: “It’s been a tough campaign because every day on the doorstep you were constantly reminded about Christopher by those that knew him. Today he would have been in his element because he loved elections and count day. It is shockingly awful that he is not around.”

The former agriculture minister in the last Executive said that if Sinn Fein does emerge this weekend as the single biggest party “they will utilise it like never before to push their border poll agenda”.

Mr Poots, however, pointed out that overall nationalism secured around the mid 30s% of the first preference votes while the overall unionist vote is currently running at 42%.

“That mid 30s% figure is very similar to the last opinion that showed support to be around 30 to 35% plus for a united Ireland. Sinn Fein have done well in this election but it is not a vote for a border poll or a united Ireland,” he added.

From early yesterday the Ulster Unionist candidate Stephen McCarthy was frank about his chances and by lunchtime had conceded it was “very highly unlikely” that he would be in contention for a seat.

The west Belfast-born Catholic grandson of a UVF murder victim was at 3,061 votes by early evening and was out of the hunt for the fifth seat.

Mr McCarthy said that on the last few days of canvassing the constituency he noticed that pro-Union voters who were giving him a positive reception on the doorstep were wavering towards the DUP.

“They were saying things like, ‘We want to give you a vote but we think the DUP are the only ones to stop Sinn Fein’. It was a message I heard time and time again.”

Deirdre Hargey of Sinn Fein topped the poll with 9,511 first preferences and well ahead of the 7,824 quota. She was the first candidate to be elected in South Belfast.

The SDLP’s Matthew O’Toole secured 5,394 and was seemingly on course last night to take a seat in one of the party’s traditional strongholds.

South Belfast is represented in parliament by the SDLP’s Claire Hanna.

Mr O’Toole may make it across the finishing line with transfers from his party running mate Elsie Trainor who came in with 2,030 first preferences.

However, one SDLP source said that given the losses the party was sustaining in other parts of Belfast Mr O’Toole could end up being their only representative in Greater Belfast in the next Assembly.

They said it was “deeply worrying” that the SDLP with its two candidates secured just 7,500 votes compared to the 2019 general election when Claire Hanna was elected to the House of Commons with a massive 27,079 votes.

“Sinn Fein didn’t stand in 2019 but even if you take away that 9,000-plus that Deirdre Hargey got this time around in the Assembly election that leaves 17,000 SDLP votes falling from 2019 to a combined vote of close to 10,0000.

“I think there has to be some soul searching about what the SDLP is for and what it should do. Perhaps a time in opposition would be better than taking a ministry, that is of course if we come with enough seats to even get a ministry,” the SDLP veteran said.

South Belfast is one of the political battlegrounds where the Alliance Party has experienced a Province-wide surge in support.

By stage four of counting last night Alliance’s Paula Bradshaw was on 6,503 votes while her running mate Kate Nicholl had 5,201. Ms Bradshaw is set to be elected while Ms Nicholl is now in a struggle for transfers with the Green Party leader Claire Bailey for the fifth and final seat in the constituency.

Results

Deirdre Hargey (SF) Elected 9,511 20.3%

Edwin Poots (DUP) Elected 7,211 15.4%

Paula Bradshaw (Alliance) 6,503 13.9%

Matthew O’Toole (SDLP) 5,394 11.5%

Kate Nicholl (Alliance) 5,201 11.1%

Clare Bailey (Green) 4,058 8.6%

Stephen McCarthy (UUP) 3,061 6.5%

Elsie Trainor (SDLP) 2,030 4.3%

Andrew Girvin (TUV) 1,935 4.1%

Luke McCann (Aontú) 806 1.7%

Sipho Sibanda (PBP) 629 1.3%

Neil Moore (Socialist Party) 353 0.8%

Paddy Lynn (Workers Party) 139 0.3%

Elly Odhiambo (Independent) 107 0.2%