Molloy looks set to take Mid-Ulster
As counting continued late last night in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, it appeared that Sinn Féin candidate Francie Molloy was on track to succeed his colleague, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, as the MP for Mid-Ulster.
From the outset of this by-election caused by Mr McGuinness’s decision to concentrate on his Northern Executive activities, Mr Molloy, principal deputy speaker in the Northern Assembly, was overwhelming favourite to take the seat.
His chief opponent was Nigel Lutton who stood on a unionist unity ticket with the support of DUP leader Peter Robinson and Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt, with the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice Jim Allister also rowing in behind him.
As the votes were being counted into the early hours of this morning at Cookstown Leisure Centre, the strong indications were that Mr Molloy (62) would be the new MP for the constituency.
The SDLP and Alliance also ran candidates, respectively Mid-Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone and Eric Bullick, a retired headmaster of Omagh integrated primary school.
The front-runner always was Mr Molloy due to Mr McGuinness’s stranglehold on Mid-Ulster. He took 52 per cent of the vote in Mid-Ulster in the 2010 general election, with the three unionist candidates managing just under 33 per cent. It was always going to be a huge challenge for Mr Lutton to overturn the Sinn Féin vote.
There will be major analysis of 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 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 Mr Molloy was linked to the 1979 IRA murder of Mr Lutton’s father Frederick.
Mr Molloy has denied this charged and warned he would sue Mr Simpson if he ever made the charge outside parliamentary privilege.