The Ulster Unionists have an MP again after Danny Kinahan defeated DUP veteran William McCrea in South Antrim.
In a significant win for Mike Nesbitt’s party, the South Antrim MLA beat the Free Presbyterian minister to upset the DUP, which had been hoping to increase its Westminster team.
At around 2am this morning Mr Kinahan, a former Army officer, beat the Rev McCrea by about 1,000 votes.
Mr Kinahan polled 11,942 while Rev McCrea polled 10,993. Mr Kinahan told the News Letter he was “absolutely ecstatic”.
He said that he had “votes coming from all sorts of angles – I’m just really, really happy”.
He added: ”I’m me. I’m there for everybody. I want to really see South Antrim thriving.”
But defeat in South Antrim will have been somewhat softened for Peter Robinson by regaining East Belfast, where Gavin Robinson beat Alliance’s Naomi Long.
However, Mrs Long’s supporters had cause for some cheer last night – the former Lord Mayor of Belfast improved her vote in the face of a pan-unionist pact to unseat her.
Indeed, it was clear that without the pact Mr Robinson would not have won.
Nationally, the Conservatives have fared much better than the polls had suggested, and appeared on course to lead the next Government.
David Cameron’s party was projected to take more than 300 seats – and possibly even win an outright majority.
If the Tories fall short or have a negligible lead, the DUP and other smaller parties could come into play as potentially crucial allies for Mr Cameron.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats saw their vote spectacularly haemorrhage to the SNP in Scotland, with Nicola Sturgeon’s party breaking through to become a major force in Westminster politics.
But the DUP is also set to play a crucial role in the next parliament, the party’s deputy leader has said.
Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s leader in Westminster in the last term, described the exit poll that put the Conservatives on 316 seats – 10 short of an absolute majority – as “very interesting”.
Mr Dodds was asked about the potential of a post-election deal with the Tories as he attended the Belfast count centre.
“We have always said throughout the campaign that the DUP could play a pivotal role in the next parliament of the United Kingdom,” he said.
“Obviously we have seen the exit poll, it’s a very interesting poll. There are other polls that show a slightly different picture and it’s very, very early in the evening.
“I’m not going to speculate too much on the basis of the exit poll. We have to see the results and how accurate they are, but clearly whatever the outcome of the election, the DUP is going to be crucial.
“And not just perhaps in terms of the formation of the government but in terms of the full five years of the parliament, where votes could be extremely tight indeed.”
Mr Dodds reiterated his party’s position that it was not seeking any formal coalition with ministerial posts.
“What we have been saying is we will always act in the best interest of Northern Ireland and, of course, the United Kingdom as a whole. We want to see stable government for the United Kingdom,” he added.
Meanwhile, the SDLP was on course to keep its three MPs, with Mark Durkan increasing his majority over Sinn Fein in Foyle, and party leader Alasdair McDonnell – whose South Belfast seat was believed to have been under pressure – polling well and expected to hold on.
As expected, Lady Hermon comfortably retained her North Down seat ahead of the DUP’s Alex Easton.
And Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson kept the seat for the DUP, stretching his lead over the UUP.
In line with expectations. turnout was high in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, although at the time of going to press it was still not clear when a result would be declared.
One Fermanagh unionist source was happy with turnout in areas where the UUP’s Tom Elliott would be expected to poll well.