DUP and Sinn Fein suffer General Election setbacks

By PA Reporters

Northern Ireland’s two main parties have suffered General Election setbacks as some voters urged them to return to devolved powersharing.

It has been almost three years since the collapse of government at Stormont and its impact has been felt on education and the health system.

On Thursday, the two large parties lost electoral races they had hoped to win, from Bangor on the east coast to Londonderry in the north west.

Many NHS workers including nurses and paramedics are due to walk out in protest next week and blame lack of Stormont ministers for their relatively low pay levels.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood is elected MP for Foyle (Niall Carson/PA)

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said: “Sinn Fein wants to see a successful conclusion of the talks established by the two governments and the political institutions restored on a credible and a sustainable basis.

“I and our negotiating team stand ready to re-enter talks with the two governments and the other parties on Monday and we will work towards securing agreement on outstanding issues.

“We need a new kind of politics, a new Assembly and a new Executive, which is underpinned by the resources to deliver quality public services.”

Her party suffered a reverse in the north-western constituency of Foyle, where nationalist rival and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood recorded a massive 17,000 majority.

Mr Eastwood said: “The Secretary of State knows we must get around the table. Everyone knows what has to happen.

“We must take responsibility. No longer is it good to stand on the sidelines. No longer can we look in the window. Let’s get on with it.”

The Democratic Unionists suffered a damaging election, with the party’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds among two MPs in Belfast to lose their seats.

The DUP also failed to land another key target seat in North Down, making for a hat-trick of defeats.

Senior Democratic Unionist Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said unionists were giving away seats “on a plate”.

The Lagan Valley MP told the BBC’s Radio Ulster his party had to reflect on its plan for the future.

Leader Arlene Foster has rejected any suggestion her position could be under threat.

Reflecting on the disappointing election results, on Friday evening she said the DUP was “listening” to those who chose not to vote for them.

She tweeted: “Thank you to everyone who voted DUP. To those who felt unable to support us yesterday, we’re listening. I know you want to get NI moving again & have an Assembly to fix our schools & hospitals. I will be at the Talks on Monday. We need a willing partner though.”

While Sinn Fein was celebrating dethroning Mr Dodds in North Belfast, it was not a positive poll for the republican party overall.

Sinn Fein’s John Finucane celebrates with party leader Mary Lou McDonald, left, and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill after winning in the Belfast North constituency (Liam McBurney/PA)

Its vote fell everywhere else.

The results will be interpreted by some as the public giving a damning judgment on the two largest parties’ ongoing failure to strike a deal to resurrect the crisis-hit powersharing institutions at Stormont.

It will also be seen as potential evidence of a shift towards more centre-ground politics in the region – a trend that appears to be borne out by another positive showing for the cross-community Alliance Party.

It was a good night for Alliance, whose recent electoral surge continued when deputy leader Stephen Farry deprived the DUP of the much-prized North Down seat vacated by retiring independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon.

Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party celebrates winning the North Down constituency (Michael Cooper/PA)

The SDLP, which went into the election with no Westminster seats, also picked up a gain in Belfast South, where the DUP’s other defeated MP, Emma Little-Pengelly, was vanquished by Claire Hanna.

The results in North Down and Belfast North and South all came in constituencies where other pro-Remain parties had stepped aside to maximise the chances of a victory over a DUP Brexiteer.

It was a damaging night for unionism overall, with the DUP’s woes compounded by the Ulster Unionist Party suffering another series of poor results.

UUP candidate Tom Elliott missed out in Fermanagh and South Tyrone by an agonising 57 votes to Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew.

The results are symbolically significant, as there are now more nationalist and republican MPs from Northern Ireland (nine) than unionists (eight), reversing the 11/7 split from the 2017 election.

The DUP’s Sammy Wilson celebrates with party leader Arlene Foster after winning the South Down seat (Liam McBurney/PA)

DUP leader Mrs Foster said she was hugely disappointed but rejected any suggestion that her leadership was under threat.

She claimed that, while there might be more nationalist MPs than unionists, more votes were cast overall for pro-Union parties.

“If you look at the votes, you will find the greater number of people in Northern Ireland still want to remain within the UK – that to me is a very important point,” she said.

The Conservative majority at Westminster means the DUP has also lost its influential role as kingmaker and, as a consequence, potentially any lingering hope of securing changes to the Brexit deal.

The DUP is vehemently opposed to Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement, claiming it will create economic borders down the Irish Sea and weaken Northern Ireland’s place within the union.

The DUP’s Nigel Dodds is embraced by leader Arlene Foster after losing the Belfast North seat (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Dodds’s defeat by John Finucane in Belfast North will represent the DUP’s biggest wound of the night, with the long-standing MP, who led the party at Westminster, falling in the most high-profile contest of the election.

Mr Finucane’s solicitor father Pat was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in one of the most notorious incidents of the Troubles.

Mr Farry hailed his resounding win in North Down as a blow against Brexit and pledged to work in Westminster to frustrate the EU exit.