Fermanagh-South Tyrone: Gildernew beats Elliott to claim seat

Turnout was much higher than last election with 76 per cent of people turning out to vote


It was Winston Churchill who once spoke of the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

But there was nothing dismal about the general election contest when Michelle Gildernew beat Tom Elliott in the early hours of this morning with 25,230 votes taking the Westminster seat.

The contest in the most westerly constituency in the United Kingdom was always expected to be between Mr Elliott and Ms Gildernew as either side ramped up their supporters to vote Orange or Green.

“We tried to get our message across: there’s a lot of fear and anxiety about Brexit and what that will mean for people here in Fermanagh South Tyrone,” Ms Gildernew told supporters at Omagh Leisure Centre following her win.

Ms Gildernew, who was the MP for the area for 14 years until 2015, will now seek speaking rights at the Dáil.

“Tory austerity is going to really impact on the most vulnerable people in our community and it is our job to work on behalf of everybody. It will not be easy over the next number of years but I can tell you this: I and team Sinn Féin are up for the challenge,” she said.

The turnout was much higher than last time with 76.08 per cent of people turning out to vote in the rural constituency with 53,714 votes polled.

One of the issues that dominated Ms Gildernew’s campaign was Brexit and the potential impact of that in a Border area such as Fermanagh and South Tyrone which voted to remain in the European Union.

Ms Gildernew has spent months criticising Mr Elliott, a Brexiter, for voting for Article 50 while he was MP, and has been calling for special status for Northern Ireland.

This morning a member of Mr Elliott’s camp described the atmosphere following his defeat “as like something from a wake”.

He was not in the hall when Ms Gildernew was declared the winner.

During his campaign Mr Elliott availed of the support of other unionists, including the Democratic Unionist Party and the Orange Order.

But it wasn’t enough.

Hitching his wagon to all shades of unionism resulted in accusations of sectarianism from some of the other candidates.

Ms Gildernew said he had engaged in a “sectarian campaign” and much was made of his continued reluctance to attend GAA matches.

Mr Elliott received 24,355 votes while SDLP’s Mary Garrity picked up 2,587 votes, Tanya Jones of the Green Party received 423 votes and Alliance’s Noreen Campbell received 886 votes.

Recent Westminster elections

2010 – Michelle Gildernew (Sinn Féin) defeated Independent unionist Rodney Connor (21,304 votes to 21,300).

2015 – Tom Elliott (UUP) beat Ms Gildernew (23,608 to 23,078).