The DUP’s Mervyn Storey has said this election should serve as “a wake up call for unionism”, after Sinn Fein’s Philip McGuigan topped the poll in North Antrim.
The surprise result represents something of a symbolic defeat for the DUP in what is traditionally a unionist heartland, which has been associated with the party’s Dr Ian Paisley for decades.
Mr McGuigan was the first candidate to reach the 8,016 quota at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena yesterday.
Describing his win as “historic”, Mr McGuigan said: “I am delighted, it’s a tremendous result.”
Mr Storey, one of three DUP candidates vying for election in the constituency, admitted yesterday afternoon it would be huge challenge for the party to hold on to its third seat this time around.
His prediction proved to be correct last night, as the party returned only two candidates.
In the end, Mr Storey and his running mate, Paul Frew were both deemed elected without reaching the quota.
Mr Storey said: “I think today has been a wake up call to unionism, the way that it fractures and divides, because when that happens we see the gap between us and Sinn Fein narrowing.”
TUV leader Jim Allister, who also retained his seat without reaching the quota, launched a scathing attack on DUP leader Arlene Foster and said: “This is a poor day for unionism. It is a day that need not have arrived but for the bungling and arrogance of Mrs Foster, which has delivered for the first time in the history of Northern Ireland the absence of a unionist majority at Stormont.”
For much of the day, it looked like it was going to be a tough battle between the UUP’s Robin Swann and DUP’s Phillip Logan.
But, having picked up an impressive 1,465 transfers from the SDLP and a further 839 from Alliance, Mr Swann crossed the line last night and took the second seat.
Paying tribute to outgoing party leader Mike Nesbitt, Mr Swann said: “I want to thank him for his service, hard work and commitment to the Ulster Unionist Party.”
Elsewhere, TUV’s hopes of winning two seats in the constituency were dashed after Timothy Gaston was excluded at the fourth stage of counting.
SDLP candidate Connor Duncan and Alliance’s Patricia O’Lynn polled well, but both were eliminated.
In line with many other constituencies across the province, the voter turnout in North Antrim rose by more than 10%, up from 52.9% to 63.22%.