South Belfast is again NI’s most splintered constituency

DUP candidate Emma Little Pengelly (right) who narrowly lost out on re-election.'' 'Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
DUP candidate Emma Little Pengelly (right) who narrowly lost out on re-election.'' 'Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.

The most diverse seat in Northern Ireland, in terms of religious and ethnic background, has also shown it to be the most electorally splintered.

Five different parties took the five seats – the only seat in Northern Ireland where this happened.

Christopher Stalford for the DUP and Clare Bailey for the Greens scrapped in for the last seat at around 3am, after a tense count that saw Mr Stalford edge ahead of his party colleague Emma Little-Pengelly by a mere 25 votes before she was eliminated.

The other three victors were Mairtin O’Muilleoir (SF), Claire Hanna (SDLP) and Paula Bradshaw (Alliance).

The last two placings brought the Northern Ireland election to a close, with the DUP 28 seat total just ahead of Sinn Fein’s 27.

All the main parties polled strongly in South Belfast, once an Ulster Unionist stronghold.

The UUP candidate Michael Henderson initially appeared to have little hope of getting in, which was no surprise given that the party had not even won a seat last year when there were six vacancies. But, after his first preference vote of 4,000 rose in later counts, early this morning he was battling it out for the final seat and narrowly lost out at the end.

The seat is so fractured that in 2015 Alasdair McDonnell was elected MP on the lowest ever share of the vote by a successful Westminster candidate anywhere in the UK.

In this election, the first preference votes for the parties overall were as follows:

DUP 8,975 (20.8%)

SDLP 8,353 (19.4%)

Alliance 7,648 (17.8%)

Sinn Fein 7,610 (17.7%)

Green 4,247 (9.9%)

UUP 3,863 (9.0%)

Others 2,657 (3.7%)

In such a divided constituency, only the DUP, SDLP and Alliance were emboldened to run two candidates each.

It was less of a problem for the SDLP, where Claire Hanna was the clear winner of the intra-SDLP contest.

Similarly with the Alliance Party, which had a lower combined vote than the DUP and SDLP but which had a clear internal victor, Paula Bradshaw.

But the vote management of the DUP was a little too perfect – Christopher Stalford and Emma Little-Pengelly were almost equally split in first preferences, with Mr Stalford about 83 votes ahead.

It was still unclear after midnight which of them would be elected to Stormont, but it gradually became clear that Ms Little-Pengelly was staying just slightly too far behind Mr Stalford, and so either candidate struggled to break free.

Sinn Fein easily topped the overall poll because Mr O’Muilleoir was the only candidate for the party.

The SF vote also rose, which caused him to emerge far ahead of any other single candidate.

In addition to the strong result for Ms Bailey of the Greens, there was a strong vote for various other smaller candidates, who between them got almost 3,000 votes, but no-one among them was anywhere near contention for the last seats.

The DUP was said to be very unhappy that many Ulster Unionist transfers went to the SDLP, as per Mike Nesbitt, rather than to them.

This, they said, meant that they knew early on there was no chance of a second DUP seat in South Belfast that might otherwise have been in prospect.