Sinn Fein take Fermanagh South Tyrone by slimmest margin after recount, but vote is down

The traditional drama of a Sinn Fein wafer thin victory in Fermanagh South Tyrone masked the fact that like the rest of NI, both it and the main unionist vote took heavy damage while Alliance and SDLP prospered.

Friday, 13th December 2019, 5:12 am
Updated Friday, 13th December 2019, 5:10 pm
Joint unionist candidate for Fermanagh/South Tyrone Tom Elliott prepares for a TV interview at the Leisure Centre, in Omagh before counting had finished. Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew celebrated with supporters at 6:45am on Friday after winning the seat in the wake of a recount.

United unionist candidate, Tom Elliott of the UUP, said: “We lost by 57 votes. But that’s politics. It was so tight you would nearly prefer to lose by 5000 than 57 votes, but that is where we are.”

Sinn Fein’s poll dropped from 25,230 in 2017 to 21,986 – a loss of 3,244, while Mr Elliott’s vote dropped from 24,355 to 21,929 – a loss of 2,426.

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Both figures reflect a province wide decline in the vote of Sinn Fein and the DUP, the latter of which stood aside in the constituency for the unified unionist candidate of Elliott. Turnout was also down from 76% to 70%.

By contrast, the SDLP saw its vote increase from 2,587 to 3,446 with Adam Gannon and Alliance also rising from 886 to 2,650 with Matthew Beaumont.

Earlier in the evening Mr Elliott had said that Sinn Fein were 62 votes ahead, before a recount began in the early hours. Speaking to the News Letter at 5am, he said the Electoral Office was also missing eight ballot papers.

The UUP MP for the area from 2015-2017, he agreed that the Sinn Fein lead of 62 votes could be too much for him to overtake in the recount.

“That is unless they might find a missing bundle of 100 papers, “ he added.

“We have to remember that in 2010 Independent unionist candidate Rodney Connor was leading Michelle Gildernew by 19-20 votes until the recount saw her take the seat by only four votes.”

He said the final result could be known around 6am, although by 6am there were unconfirmed reports it could be closer to 7am.

There had been reports that a ballot box arrived at the Omagh count but that the related paperwork ended up in Ballyclare and some votes therefore couldn’t be verified.

However the Electorial Office said this was not accurate, though it declined to give any further explanations.

As of 6:36am the teams of counters had folded up their high visibility vests and were sitting with their arms folded at their tables.

Asked if a final result was therefore coming soon, the Electoral Office advised the News Letter that final counting was still taking place.

Pressed on whether yet another recount was possible, the spokeswoman said it was impossible to say.

But then, standing on the observers balcony, the media watched on as Michelle Gildernew and supporters, including party Vice President Michelle O’Neill, cheered and threw their arms around each other at 6:45am.

Speaking afterwards, she said: “We have many issues relating to this constituency, not least with the news coming from London.”

She went on to predict more years for her constituents to suffer “Tory austerity”.