Sinn Fein left reeling from loss of 'Bobby Sands' seat'
Sinn Fein have been dealt a significant blow after the party lost a seat once held by IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in the British general election.
Party President Gerry Adams hoped Michelle Gildernew would retain her seat in Fermanagh/South Tyrone, which she won by just four votes in the previous election.
However, Ms Gildernew lost out to Ulster Unionist Party candidate Tom Elliott after a pact was agreed between the UPP and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to run a single unionist candidate in the constituency.
After losing her seat, Ms Gildernew said she was "proud" to have represented her constituency for the last five years and insisted: "In our hearts this seat will always be Bobby Sands'."
However, in his victory speech, Mr Elliot responded: "This is not a green constituency. It doesn't belong to Bobby Sands. It belongs to the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone and that is who I intend to represent."
Sinn Fein TD Dessie Ellis said he was disappointed that the party lost Mr Sands' former seat, but claimed he was not surprised at the outcome given the tight margin at the previous election.
"It is always disappointing to lose a seat. Our plan was to hold on to the five seats in the North and it was always going to be hard to win Michelle's seat with the pact that was in place and there was no pact from the Nationalist side," Mr Ellis told the Sunday Independent.
"I wasn't surprised to be honest that she lost it but you are always hoping you will close the gap," he added.
Mr Ellis said Sinn Fein did "relatively well" overall and he was confident ahead of Northern Assembly elections.
Mr Ellis warned that the Conservatives were "not friends of Sinn Fein at the best of times" and the cuts the Tories plan to impose in Northern Ireland were going to be a major challenge for the party.
"We have been quite adamant that we are not going to see services cut or allow the least well off to suffer so that is going to be a huge challenge for us," he said.
Sinn Fein candidate Gerry Kelly, who distributed leaflets that claimed there are more Catholics than Protestants in North Belfast, failed to dislodge DUP MP Nigel Dodds from his seat.
Mr Dodds branded Mr Kelly's leaflets "sectarian" in his acceptance speech and said it was one of the "nastiest" election campaigns he has been involved in.
Another blow for Sinn Fein at last week's election was the low Nationalist share which - at 38pc - was the lowest since the IRA ceasefire.Despite a higher turnout overall in Northern Ireland, the combined vote of Sinn Fein and the SDLP fell below 40pc for the first time since 1992.
In comparison, the Unionist share of the vote jumped five points since the 2010 election to 46pc.
Overall, Sinn Fein won four seats, which it will not be taking up in Westminster, and the SDLP secured three.
The DUP was the big winner with eight seats and the UUP took two seats.