Sinn Fein retain Mid Ulster on record low turnout

Sinn Fein has won the Mid Ulster by-election with a sharply reduced majority on a record low turnout, with almost half of the electorate not voting at all.

Sinn Fein has won the Mid Ulster by-election with a sharply reduced majority on a record low turnout.

The contest, triggered by the decision by deputy first minister Martin McGuinness to resign his Westminster seat, saw Francie Molloy, a previous deputy speaker at Stormont, win with 17,462 votes, cutting the party’s majority from the 15,363 achieved at 2010 General Election to 4,681 overnight.

Molloy’s main opponent, Nigel Lutton, who was chosen by the DUP and the UUP as a unionist unity candidate, polled 12,781 votes, equal to 34 per cent of the vote, 2 per cent higher than the combined unionist vote in 2010.

In thanking Martin McGuinness for his work in the constituency over the past 15 years, Molloy, whose party retains its policy of not taking its seats at Westminster, pledged to represent all sections of the community in Mid Ulster.

Speaking following his election he said:

“Martin is going to be a hard act to follow, I understand that, but we will try our best to do that and we will continue to build the process and work with everyone – I want to represent all the people of Mid Ulster, not just those who voted for me, not just the Sinn Fein support.”

The contest itself went relatively smoothly, despite the history between the two main candidates. Nigel Lutton’s father who was a policeman at the time, was murdered in 1979 by the IRA with last night’s victor, Francie Molloy having been accused of involvement in the murder.

In explaining that all party’s would be able to “take some heart” from the result, BBC Northern Ireland Political Correspondent Gareth Gordon has noted:

“Sinn Fein will take the win, albeit with a vote down by just over 5 per cent for the new MP Francie Molloy. His predecessor Martin McGuinness blamed complacency in his party’s voters because the media wrote off the challengers.

“The unionist parties believe the controversial plan to stand aside and back an agreed candidate in Nigel Lutton worked – increasing the combined unionist vote to just over 34 per cent.

“Although he came third, the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone succeeded in increasing his party’s actual vote in a reduced overall poll.

“And in the Alliance’s first election since the flag row began, Eric Bullick increased its vote from 397 to 487.”

The record low turnout of just over 55 per cent meanwhile has attracted attention, with the Newsletter noting:

“In a constituency which has seen some of the highest UK electoral turnouts in history, almost half of voters did not vote at all.

“After a remarkably low-key campaign in which the two leading candidates refused to take part in the only televised debate between the candidates, many voters were clearly not sufficiently enthused to cast their ballot.”

Outlining the extent of voter decline, the Slugger O’Toole blog observed of the constituency:

“Turnout has slipped from the an amazing peak of 91.5 per cent in the 1969 by-election that first sent Bernadette Devlin to Westminster. In the 1970 Westminster general election, the Mid Ulster constituency had the highest turnout in the UK with 91.4 per cent; and again topped the UK rankings with 86 per cent in 1997. However, since then there has been a steady decline, on top of the traditional by-election dip in voter interest.”

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