West Tyrone incumbent Pat Doherty of Sinn Fein defended his seat easily with a majority of well over 10,000 – but his subsequent comments caused bad feeling and outbursts from unionists.
Mr Doherty’s claim that West Tyrone was still a republican constituency provoked a strong reaction from the DUP and UUP contingents.
“I would also like to reiterate, the figures say it again – West Tyrone is a republican constituency,” he said.
“And we are very, very proud that it is a republican constituency. And it is based on republican beliefs that we want by peaceful and democratic means to bring about the reunification of our country and an end to austerity and equality for all of our citizens.”
And he prompted a further angry reaction by saying that the next step for Sinn Fein was Irish reunification – responding to unionist heckles at this point –and that unionists have nothing to fear from reconciliation.
“I do genuinely believe that the next major phase of our development process here in the north is the issue of reconcilation,” he said.
From the unionist ranks came cries for “a wee bit of respect first Pat” to which the newly elected MP responded: “Unionists shouldn’t be afraid of it ... they see it as a barrier.”
He added: “We have respect and the people have shown just how much respect they have for us.”
Coming in second was the DUP’s Tom Buchanan, who hit back at Sinn Fein claims that it was a republican seat, saying: “Nonsense. What nonsense.”
He added: “Fifty six per cent of people in west Tyrone did not vote for nationalism and did not vote for republicanism.”
He also said: “I want to thank the electorate for consolidating the DUP vote.”
The UUP’s Ross Hussey congratulated Mr Doherty on winning the seat but noted that the Sinn Fein man’s abstentionism from Westminster gave the Conservatives another seat in practical terms with which to push the “austerity agenda” which Mr Doherty said was top of Sinn Fein’s priorities to oppose.
Mr Doherty took 16,807 votes, Mr Buchanan 6,747, Daniel McCrossan of the SDLP 6,444, Mr Hussey 6,144 and Stephen Donnelly from the Alliance Party 869 votes.
There was a 61.1 per cent turnout with 39,014 votes cast with 353 invalid votes.
Mr Doherty opened his victory speech saying that they had decided to campaign on social media on a positive note – “happiness”.
To deafening cheers from his camp, he said: “Happiness is winning or re-winning West Tyrone. And also to retaining a 10,000-plus majority.”
Mr Doherty, a former Sinn Fein vice-president who has held the seat since 2001, had a majority of more than 10,000 in 2010 and was again odds-on favourite to retain the seat.
Amid deafening cheers and chants of “easy, easy, easy”, he told supporters: “There were some serious matters that we were dealing with in the campaign – obviously our strong stance against austerity – and even though the Conservative candidate in herself is a very nice person, I think the vote that the Tories got is an indication of what West Tyrone thinks of austerity.”
The declaration at Omagh Leisure Centre was made at about 1.45am.
Although the count was completed relatively swiftly, it fell outside the two-and-a-half-hour record set five years ago.
One of the most controversial candidates was Susan-Anne White, a devout Christian who thinks homosexuality should be criminalised, adulterers jailed and feminism abolished. She received just 166 votes.
Barry Brown of the Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol party also polled poorly with 528 votes while the Conservative candidate Claire-Louise Leyland, a Camden councillor who first visited the constituency a month before the election campaign kicked off, was backed by just 169 voters.