Arlene Foster tops poll in Fermanagh after tense day

Democratic Unionist leader says election ‘absolutely not about’ cash for ash scandal

Democratic Unionist party leader and former first minister Arlene Foster was elected late evening and spoke of her delight at being returned to Stormont. Photograph:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Democratic Unionist party leader and former first minister Arlene Foster was elected late evening and spoke of her delight at being returned to Stormont. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

 

It was the fight of her political career but after a tense day of counting in Omagh, Co Tyrone, former first minister Arlene Foster survived to tell the tale.

The Democratic Unionist leader topped the poll in Fermanagh and South Tyrone despite failing to meet the quota in the first round.

It was a nail-biting day for the Fermanagh woman who kept a low profile during the count, preferring to remain in a side room with her family, friends and party colleagues.

Ms Foster was elected late evening and spoke of her delight at being returned to Stormont after being forced from the power-sharing Executive after Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness tendered his resignation amid the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal.

Speaking after being elected she hit out at Sinn Féin: “I think it’s very clear that [the election] was absolutely not about RHI; it may have been the excuse but it certainly wasn’t the cause of the election.

Big shocks

“The cause of the election was Sinn Féin and republicanism wanting to rerun the election, they have mobilised their vote in a very effective way,” she told UTV.

One of the big shocks was the elimination of Richie McPhillips, the SDLP man from Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh.

He lost out following a second recount after it emerged that just 58 votes separated him and Sinn Féin’s Seán Lynch.

The insurance broker won back a seat in last year’s election reversing the fortunes of his party which had been without representation at Stormont for four years.

Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew and Jemma Dolan were expected to pick up two seats in the third round.

Front-line politics

Ms Gildernew returned to front-line politics last year when she was elected back where she had previously served as MLA and agriculture minister.

Ms Dolan, a 26-year-old from Belleek on the Donegal-Fermanagh border, is the party’s new candidate and seen very much as the new face of the party locally. She was even chosen by the leadership to launch Sinn Féin’s main election campaigns.

The race for the final seat on Friday night was between Democratic Unionist peer Maurice Morrow, the party chairman, Ulster Unionist’s Rosemary Barton, a former teacher, and Sinn Féin’s Seán Lynch, a former IRA commander.