Molloy wins byelection to succeed McGuinness

SF candidate elected as abstentionist Westminster MP for Mid-Ulster

Sinn Fein candidate Francie Molloy makes a speech after being elected MP for Mid Ulster, at the count centre in Cookstown Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Sinn Fein candidate Francie Molloy makes a speech after being elected MP for Mid Ulster, at the count centre in Cookstown Leisure Centre, Co Tyrone. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

 

There was no handshake between the victor, Francie Molloy, and his main unionist unity opponent, Nigel Lutton, after the Mid-Ulster byelection count was completed early yesterday morning, but at least it was civil.

As expected, Mr Molloy, the deputy chief speaker in the Northern Assembly, was elected to succeed Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as the new abstentionist Westminster MP for Mid-Ulster.

It could have been another bitter night of tribal politics at the count centre in Cookstown Leisure Centre on Thursday night and into yesterday morning but for the disarming nature of unionist candidate Mr Lutton (42).

The previous claim by DUP Upper Bann MP David Simpson, using parliamentary privilege, that Mr Molloy was linked to the 1979 IRA murder of Mr Lutton’s father, Frederick, an ex-RUC reservist, could have reopened some deep wounds. Mr Molloy has denied this claim and said he would sue Mr Simpson if he made it outside Westminster.

Mr Lutton, during the campaign, said he did not feel in a position where he could shake Mr Molloy’s hand, with both he and the Sinn Féin candidate stating they wanted to look to the future rather than the past. And neither did it happen after the result was declared at about 1.30am yesterday, but both men did exchange verbal greetings.

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.”

Mr Lutton, expressing happiness that he had increased the unionist vote and saying he looked forward to more co-operation across the unionist parties, also cracked the only joke of a downbeat election. A funeral director, he took delight in the description that he was “the undertaker that resurrected unionism”.

Lower turnout

In a lower turnout this time, Sinn Féin’s vote was down more than five points from the 52 per cent Mr McGuinness achieved in the 2010 election. Mr Molloy got 46.9 per cent.

Mid-Ulster takes in Northern Ireland’s notorious Murder Triangle of the Troubles and elections here have been bitter Orange-Green battles witnessing turnouts of up to 86 per cent. This election had a turnout of 55.7 per cent.

Of the four candidates, Mr Molloy was the only one to suffer a percentage drop in his vote. He put this down to the fact he was succeeding one of the two most high-profile Sinn Féin leaders in Ireland, “a hard act to follow”. He got 17,462 votes compared to the 21,239 Mr McGuinness won three years ago.

Mr Lutton, who was supported by the DUP, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Traditional Unionist Voice, took 12,781 votes – this at 34.4 per cent was a 1.7 per cent increase on the combined votes of the three unionist candidates in 2010. The SDLP also saw an increase with its candidate, local MLA Patsy McGlone, gaining 6,478 votes which, at 17.4 per cent, was ahead of the 14.3 per cent of the vote three years ago.

Alliance candidate Eric Bullick won 487 votes, achieving 1.3 per cent of the vote, up from 1 per cent in 2010.

Mid-Ulster results

Eligible electorate: 67,192

Votes polled: 37,426

Valid votes: 37,208

Invalid votes: 223

Turnout: 55.7 per cent

Francie Molloy (SF): 17,462

Nigel Lutton (Unionist Unity): 12,781

Patsy McGlone (SDLP): 6,478

Eric Bullick (Alliance): 487