Last week’s Westminster election saw a strong showing for Sinn Fein who topped the poll with 25.5 per cent of the vote – and the highest number of votes of any party in the north of Ireland. This is the second election where Sinn Fein has topped the poll – gaining 26 per cent at last year’s European elections.
The party’s five MPs were all re-elected on an increased mandate, including Michelle Gildernew’s spectacular victory in Fermanagh South Tyrone by just 4 votes.
In West Belfast Gerry Adam’s vote stood at a huge 71 per cent, with an increase of 2.5 per cent and a majority of around 17,000 – one of the biggest in Westminster.
Mr Adams also welcomed a small percentage of votes he said he had received from `heartland loyalist or unionist areas’ of the constituency and added `I want to thank those people who see that their class interest rests with Sinn Féin and not with the conservative parties of unionism’.
In Mid Ulster Martin McGuinness gained 52 per cent of the vote, up 4.4 per cent, and equally one of the largest majorities of nearly 16,000 votes. Mr McGuinness said that it had been a `stunning campaign’ in the constituency: `We in Sinn Fein put ourselves forward in elections because we are Irish republicans, because we are political activists because our primary political objective is to bring about the peaceful and democratic reunification of our country’. He added `It’s about representing people it’s about being in government as I am – working with my colleagues in the DUP, Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, I am a firm believer in people working together.’
In Newry and Armagh Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy had a strong showing with 42 per cent of the vote and in West Tyrone Pat Doherty increased his share of the vote by over 9 per cent, increasing his majority to over 10,000.
Michelle Gildernew’s victory was most notable, given it was over a united unionist candidate, who said he would take the Tory whip if elected. Some 1,600 votes fewer were cast for the unionist candidate, less than the combined unionist vote at the last Westminster election. Sinn Fein’s vote also increased by over 7 per cent, and the SDLP, who had been strongly criticised for its’ leader Margaret Ritchie’s refusal to even meet Sinn Fein to discuss a possible electoral cooperation, saw their vote fall by over 7 per cent.
Speaking after her re-election Ms Gildernew said: `Since I was first elected as MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone in 2001 I have served every person in this constituency. I brought that positive record into this election campaign and people from right across the constituency have once again come out in massive numbers to support me and to support Sinn Fein.’
She also said `the forces of unionism had collected together against us and we had a mountain to climb this time,” but added `Catholic, Protestant and dissenter’ had voted for her, and thanking everyone who had voted for her and worked in the campaign she also thanked traditional SDLP voters who switched their allegiance, and said she was `especially proud and grateful’ that `Protestant people . . . came out and voted for me’.
A short film about the campaign and Michelle’s speech at the count can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cU_SGM2ZHY
In north Belfast Sinn Fein performed very well, where Gerry Kelly increased his vote for Sinn Fein by over 7 per cent, a 3,000 rise in the vote, setting this up as a marginal for the next election, with just over 2,000 votes separating him from the DUP’s Nigel Dodds for the seat.
In South Antrim Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin increased his vote be 3.2 per cent and in South Down Catriona Ruane’s vote for Sinn Fein rose by 1.7 per cent. Similarly in Upper Bann John O’Dowd increased Sinn Fein’s vote by nearly 4 per cent coming a close 3rd overall.
Overall, the DUP came in just behind Sinn Fein with 25 per cent, the SDLP won 16.5 per cent, and the UUP/Tory candidates just 15.2 per cent, failing to gain any seats at all. The Alliance party won their first seat, and Sylvia Hermon was easily re-elected as an independent, having left the UUP as a result of their joining forces with Conservatives. The TUV had a small vote, reducing their support significantly after the European election.
Adams urges a `united stand’ against cuts
On 10 May Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP revealed that he had written to the other party leaders seeking a meeting to discuss an agreed strategy against any proposed cuts by the British government.
Mr Adams said he believed that it was `imperative that all parties in the Executive act with a unity of purpose to safeguard public services, to defend frontline services in health and education, and to promote investment in our economy’.
He said that any proposed cuts – which the Tories and Labour had put forward – were `unacceptable and would `have a detrimental impact on public services and jobs’ and `undermine the ability of the economy here to recover from the recession’.
He said that to `protect those most disadvantaged in our communities… and promote economic growth… the parties here must unite on a positive agenda’.
He said he was proposing to `unite under the tutelage of OFM/dFM to prepare to go to the next British government from this Assembly with a united opposition to the planned cuts.’
Speaking on UTV, Gerry Adams paid tribute to outgoing Prime Minister Gordon Brown, saying `I just want to acknowledge the significant roles Tony Blair and Gordon Brown played in their own right to developing the peace process here’.
On the new government he said the Tories were `historically’ bad news for Ireland, saying `I got a flashback to Thatcher and right through to John Major’, adding `but we’ll give this man a fair wind’.