Sinn Féin’s Órfhlaith Begley wins West Tyrone byelection
26-year-old solicitor takes seat vacated after resignation of Barry McElduff
Sinn Féin candidate Órfhlaith Begley arrives at the West Tyrone count centre with Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald and party Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Sinn Féin’s Órfhlaith Begley has been elected MP for West Tyrone with a majority of almost 8,000 votes.
The 26-year-old solicitor – who was standing in her first election – received 46 per cent of the of the vote to retain the seat for her party.
She replaces her party colleague Barry McElduff, who resigned in January after widespread condemnation of a controversial social media post, in which he posed with a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head on the 47th anniversary of the 1976 massacre of the same name, in which 10 Protestant textile workers were killed by the IRA.
Turnout in the byelection was 55.13 per cent, substantially lower than in the last Westminster election in 2017, which saw a turnout of 68.2 per cent amid an increased turnout across Northern Ireland.
Long considered a safe Sinn Féin seat, at 46 per cent Ms Begley’s share of the vote was slightly down from the 2017, when McElduff polled just over 50 per cent of the vote.
The DUP share of the vote also dropped, with Thomas Buchanan receiving 23.7 per cent.
Despite the reduced turnout the SDLP’s Daniel McCrossan increased his vote, polling 6,254 votes – 700 more than in 2017.
In her acceptance speech, Ms Begley said that while the circumstances of the byelection were “unintentional”, there were “lessons to be learned”.
She said she expected people in public life “to recognise and acknowledge the pain that exists across all communities, and at all times to be sensitive and acknowledge the pain that exists.
“I hope to bring forward new elements to that as well. Building for the future, reaching out to unionism and building bridges between our communities so that we can live in a shared and reconciled future together,” she said.
The new MP said that in order to create a shared Ireland with a place for “every single citizen” it was important to reach out to unionism.
“Hopefully going forward we will have that open and shared debate about the Ireland that we want to build together,” she said.
She also said that in the midst of the Brexit negotiations, the return of a Sinn Féin candidate was a clear indication that the people of West Tyrone “have rejected a hard Brexit and a hard border once again”.
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald and Northern leader Michelle O’Neill were at the count centre in Omagh Leisure Centre for the result.
“This is now a vindication of the Sinn Féin position for real power-sharing based on equality and based on respect,” said Ms McDonald.
“It’s certainly a vindication for our position on Brexit.
“The people of the North voted to Remain.
“We have the electoral energy for us to move forward and to plan economically, socially and politically for what are going to be very challenging times,” she said.