There was an element of unpredictability about the election in East Londonderry this year with DUP big beast Gregory Campbell (in Westminster), unionist stalwart David McClarty (sadly passed on) and John Dallat of the SDLP (retired) unfamiliarly absent from the ballot paper, this time of asking.
But whilst no-one put up a number anything like that of 2011 poll-topper Campbell’s 6,319, the DUP vote consolidated fairly evenly around its three contenders this year.
Former Coleraine Mayor Maurice Bradley, who was announced as a DUP candidate when Campbell opted for Westminster over Stormont, topped the poll in terms of first preferences with 4,630. He was closely followed by Limavady-based DUP veteran George Robinson who received 4,567 on the first count.
Inevitably, this ensured the party retained their three MLAs in the constituency as Adrian McQuillan, on 3,477 was a guaranteed beneficiary of his running mates’ surpluses upon their election after stage 4.
After crossing the line, DUP MLA George Robinson told the Newsletter: “We’re absolutely ecstatic about the result that we had. I put it down to the people of East Londonderry who put their trust and faith back in me again after nine years and the great team that I had as well behind me.
“They walked their feet off through thick and thin for four weeks and I salute each and every one of them and as I say the electorate of East Londonderry put their trust and faith back in me again.”
Mr Robinson said the party branch were well aware they wouldn’t have as strong a front runner as Campbell this year but the DUP backroomers worked the numbers to perfection.
“We don’t have the high profile that Gregory has but at the same time vote management was absolutely brilliant, to get the three of us elected.”
He also said the party would once again have strong representatives in each corner of the constituency across the Limavady, Coleraine and Garvagh areas.
“The whole of East Londonderry is covered and we have tremendous representation from the DUP.”
On the nationalist side of the house, there were, this year, as in 2011, two Sinn Féin candidates, outgoing MLA Cathal Ó hOisín and newcomer Caoimhe Archibald, and one SDLP candidate, newcomer Gerry Mullan, chasing John Dallat and Mr Ó hOisín’s old seats. Ó hOisín’s first preference vote was down considerably from the 4,681 he polled in 2011 to just 3,493 on Thursday.
Whether by vote management or otherwise Archibald was the top-polling Sinn Féiner with 4,002. This ultimately made it an interesting three way battle between David McClarty’s protege and impressive outgoing independent Claire Sugden, who received 3,270 on the first count, bettering her late mentors last total. Ó hOisín ultimately lost out to running mate Archibald and Gerry Mullan (3,265 first preferences) in the race for the final seats.