West Tyrone: Sinn Fein victory but SDLP and Alliance surge, reflecting wider trend across NI

Sinn Fein's Orfhlaith Begley won the West Tyrone seat again.
Sinn Fein's Orfhlaith Begley won the West Tyrone seat again.

The SDLP and Alliance displayed a significant middle-ground surge in West Tyrone and although Sinn Fein won again, both it and the DUP suffered significant losses.

In the last general election in 2017, Sinn Fein took 22,060 votes, dropping this week to 16,544 for Órfhlaith Begley, the DUP dropping from 11,718 to 9066 for Tom Buchanan.

Both parties insisted that their votes had actually increased. But in order to do so they had to compare this week’s figures with last year’s Westminster by-election to replace Barry McElduff, which may not have been expected to have the same turn out as the full 2017 General Election.

The SDLP’s Daniel McCrossan needed no such defence, as his vote increased from 5,635 to 7,330 from one General Election to the next, Alliance’s Stephen Donnelly similarly rising from 1000 to 3979.

During her post election press conference the News Letter asked Ms Begley what reasons she might offer for a drop of 5,516 votes for her party since 2017 – and the drop in turnout from 68% to 62% in a border county during Brexit, compared to the last General Election.

Several male Sinn Fein advisors intervened to insist those figures were not correct. But Ms Begley did not challenge them, instead asking to be measured against her by-election last year. “Them figures.... there was a by-election in between” she said. In that comparison she increased her votes by 198.

But Daniel McCrossan had his own explanation. “The two middle of the road parties in this constituency have done exceptionally well today... I think people are now appreciating on a much larger scale the need to have representation in Westminster,” he said.

In this his fourth Westminster election, he said this was the first time he felt his opposition to Sinn Fein abstentionism resonated, with similar feelings on the doors about Stormont paralysis.

DUP MLA Tom Buchanan also argued that it was not fair to compare the results with 2017.

“The people were stirred up to come out and vote [in 2017],” he said, with unionism having just had “a wake up call” after losing some Assembly seats. He too noted his vote had risen since last year’s by-election, from 8,390 to 9,066 – a rise of 676 votes.