Molloy claims Mid-Ulster victory

Sinn Fein candidate Francie Molloy will take up the Mid-Ulster seat vacated by Martin McGuinness after being elected ahead of the unionist unity candidate Nigel Lutton in a by-election. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Sinn Fein candidate Francie Molloy will take up the Mid-Ulster seat vacated by Martin McGuinness after being elected ahead of the unionist unity candidate Nigel Lutton in a by-election. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Fri, Mar 8, 2013, 00:00

Sinn Féin candidate Francie Molloy was early this morning elected as the new MP for Mid-Ulster, succeeding Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who stood down to concentrate on his Northern Executive and Assembly work.

Mr Molloy was elected ahead of the unionist unity candidate Nigel Lutton who increased the unionist percentage of the vote from the last Westminster election.

The SDLP byelection candidate, Patsy McGlone, an MLA for the constituency, who was third, also increased his party’s percentage vote.

Retired headmaster Eric Bullick won 487 votes for the Alliance Party, achieving 1.3 per cent of the vote, up from the 1 per cent the party won in 2010.

Mr Molloy, the Assembly’s chief deputy speaker, won what was a low-key by-election with 17,462 votes. This was just under 47 per cent compared to the 52 per cent vote achieved by Mr McGuinness three years ago.

Mr Lutton, who stood as a unionist unity candidate supported by the DUP, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Traditional Unionist Voice party was in second place with 12,781 votes – this at 34.4 per cent was a 1.7 per cent increase on the votes of the three unionist candidates in 2010.

The SDLP was pleased with its vote with Mr McGlone gaining 6,478 votes which at 17.4 per cent was ahead of the 14.3 per cent of the vote it took three years ago.

There will be major analysis of the vote and voting trends by the unionist parties, such is the controversy surrounding the move to put forward Mr Lutton against Mr Molloy. It was this decision that prompted Assembly members Basil McCrea and John McCallister to resign from the Ulster Unionist Party to set up their own centrist unionist party.

The marginal percentage increase in the unionist vote will bring some relief for the Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt, who has been under pressure because of the move by Mr McCallister and Mr McCrea.

The First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson did not attend the count – the most senior DUP figure present was its enterprise minister Arlene Foster.

The election also brought Northern Ireland’s violent and bloody past into sharp focus. Seven years ago, the DUP Upper Bann MP David Simpson, using parliamentary privilege, claimed that Mr Molloy was linked to the 1979 IRA murder of Mr Lutton’s father, Frederick.

A recently retired RUC reservist Mr Lutton was gunned down as he was closing the gates of the National Trust’s Argory estate in north Armagh, where he was estate manager.

Mr Molloy denied the allegation and warned that he would sue Mr Simpson if he ever made the charge outside parliamentary privilege.

During the campaign, Mr Lutton said he wanted to look to the future but that he did not feel he was ready to shake Mr Molloy’s hand. However, after the count was completed both men exchanged “hellos”, although there was no handshake.

Asked about this degree of civility, Mr Lutton said: “Yes, there was hellos, you have got to be decent to everyone as best you can.”

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