Thursday 27 July 2017

Sinn Fein maintain abstentionist stance as Northern Ireland's leading parties stronger than ever

Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill arrives at a polling station at St Patrick's primary school in Annaghmore, Clonoe to cast her vote in the General Election. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill arrives at a polling station at St Patrick's primary school in Annaghmore, Clonoe to cast her vote in the General Election. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Northern Ireland's two largest parties dealt a series of devastating blows to their rivals to emerge from the General Election stronger than ever.

The Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein made significant gains as the Ulster Unionists and SDLP were wiped off the Westminster map.

Although Sinn Fein has made clear it will not drop its abstentionist policy regardless of the final shake down in parliament, the DUP has indicated its willingness to talk with the Conservatives if they require support to form a government.

The SDLP and UUP, the two parties who together forged the Good Friday Agreement and for decades held the pre-eminent positions in Northern Ireland politics, now are without a single MP between them.

DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photo: PA
DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photo: PA

The biggest shock of the night came in Derry where Sinn Fein captured the SDLP citadel of Foyle, the seat of former leader John Hume.

Beaten candidate Mark Durkan apologised to Mr Hume in an emotional speech but insisted the party still had a future.

Sinn Fein also took an SDLP scalp in South Down, dethroning former party leader Margaret Ritchie.

The DUP seized the last SDLP stronghold in South Belfast, wrested back South Antrim from the UUP and saw off the challenge of the Alliance Party and Sinn Fein in East and North Belfast respectively.

The counting ended with the DUP taking 10 of Northern Ireland's 18 seats, Sinn Fein seven and independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon retaining her North Down constituency.

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DUP leader Arlene Foster declared it a "good night for the Union".

"We are very pleased with the way in which people have reacted to the positive message of the campaign, it was about the Union, the importance of the Union, and unionists have really come out in their numbers," she said.

"We fought this election on the importance of the Union and I think people really responded to that."

Her party colleague Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who romped home in Lagan Valley, said the DUP was willing to talk with the Conservatives in the event of a hung parliament.

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Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams made clear there was "no danger whatsoever" of his party ditching its abstentionist policy, even if its seats become crucial in the final reckoning.

Mr Adams also said he could not see Prime Minister Theresa May surviving in her post.

"There is no danger whatsoever of us taking our seats in the Westminster parliament," he said.

He credited Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with fighting a good campaign despite "media bias".

"I don't know how Theresa May can survive this, that's a matter for her party, of course," he said.

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