North’s three outgoing MEPs returned to Brussels

Frustratingly slow count leaves NI’s chief electoral officer proposing electronic voting

Sinn Féin’s part leader Gerry Adams celebrates with party members Michelle Gildernew, Martin McGuinness, deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and Martina Anderson (r) after topping the poll at the Kings Hall count centre, Belfast. Photograph: EPA/Paul McErlane

Sinn Féin’s part leader Gerry Adams celebrates with party members Michelle Gildernew, Martin McGuinness, deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and Martina Anderson (r) after topping the poll at the Kings Hall count centre, Belfast. Photograph: EPA/Paul McErlane

 

Northern Ireland’s three outgoing MEPs were returned to Brussels after a two-day count that left the North’s chief electoral officer proposing that future proportional representation elections be counted electronically.

Sinn Féin’s Martina Anderson was elected on Monday on the first count with 159,813 votes, comfortably exceeding the quota of 156,532 votes. But it took until the seventh stage this evening for Diane Dodds of the DUP to be elected, while Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson was returned on the eighth count.

Ms Dodds won 131,163 votes in the first count, with transfer and surplus votes bringing her total to 179,303 by the seventh count. Mr Nicholson won 83,438 votes in the first count and by the eighth count transfers and surpluses also brought him over the quota with 158,212 votes, ahead of his nearest rival, Alex Attwood of the SDLP, with 115,274 votes. Mr Attwood polled 81,494 in the first count.

While the DUP and the Traditional Unionist Voice party are deeply hostile to each other it was the transfers of the TUV candidate, Jim Allister, that took Ms Dodds over the quota. Both the transfers of Mr Allister and the surplus of Ms Dodds helped elect Mr Nicholson, who is now beginning his 26th year as an MEP – a record for the island of Ireland.

Most candidates were gracious in either victory or defeat. Mr Allister however refused to congratulate Ms Anderson, a former IRA prisoner, whom he described as a “victim-maker and convicted terrorist bomber”.

With First Minister Peter Robinson looking on, Mr Allister noted that US diplomat Richard Haass was back in the news in terms of talks about reactivating moves to deal with parades, the past and flags. “Those who are tempted to do another sordid deal keep looking over your shoulder,” shouted Mr Allister.

And furiously jabbing his finger at Mr Robinson he declared, “Mr Robinson we are on your case.”

Earlier and separately, Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called for movement on the Haass issues while Mr Robinson said there must be movement on these matters but also on welfare reform.

Regarding the growing scepticism about Europe, Mr Nicholson said: “Europe must listen to what the people are saying and Europe must change if it wants to survive.”

When the speeches ended TUV supporters took up the singing of God Save the Queen , with Ms Anderson and the Sinn Féin entourage then deciding to walk away from the front of stage area.

Northern Ireland, with a 51.84 per cent vote, had the highest turnout of all constituencies in the UK, the fact that the local elections were taking place at the same time helping to boost that voting figure – the turnout in the North in the 2009 European poll was 42.8 per cent.

While Alliance is a centrist party it is often seen as “soft” unionist in outlook. The party however came under unionist criticism because it was viewed as taking the key decision that restricted the number of days the British union flag should fly over Belfast City Hall from all year round to about 17 designated days. Many unionists also were annoyed when Alliance candidate Anna Lo said she would favour a united Ireland.

She polled 44,432 votes and was eliminated after the fifth count. It was interesting that when her transfers were distributed that just 6,959 of them went to the unionist Mr Nicholson, while 24,676 went to the nationalist Mr Attwood.

Unusually, an announcement was made during rather than at the end of the seventh count deeming Ms Dodds elected. The intention may have been to inject a little energy into a long count that candidates and their supporters found frustratingly slow.