NI Election: East Antrim – Hilditch does the double to top poll for second time in a year

DUP party chairman Lord Morrow (left) with DUP leader Arlene Foster at Omagh count centre as he failed to be re-elected in Northern Ireland’s Assembly election. Brian Lawless/PA Wire

There was a muted mood at the Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey as the East Antrim count got under way.

In an effort to speed things up, candidates had agreed to stall their speeches until the close of play, leading to a curtailment of the usual raucous atmosphere.

Nevertheless, there was a ripple of applause from the floor when DUP favourite David Hilditch topped the poll for the second time in under a year.

Elected at the third stage of the count, Mr Hilditch declared he was “confident East Antrim would remain a DUP stronghold”.

There was disappointment for Ukip candidate Noel Jordan, who admitted he was “gutted” to be eliminated at stage four.

Alliance candidate Danny Donnelly’s election hopes turned to ashes in the fifth stage of the count, but running mate Stewart Dickson was triumphantly returned in the sixth.

“The Alliance vote has increased by 25% since last May,” he beamed.

Also elected on the sixth count was the UUP’s Roy Beggs, who modestly said that he “was always taught to work hard and do my best in everything”.

Despite the DUP’s confidence, Stephen Ross failed in his bid to replace Alastair Ross in the constituency, and was eliminated in stage seven of the count.

However, the party’s youngest candidate in East Antrim, Gordon Lyons, who turns 31 on Monday, received an early birthday present when he got over the line at the eighth stage.

“I’m absolutely delighted, I am so thankful to the people who came out and voted and I am honoured and privileged that the party has allowed me to have this opportunity,” he said.

The last candidate to be elected in East Antrim was John Stewart. Mr Stewart joked that he feared his heavily pregnant wife Deborah was at risk of giving birth after the pair ran from the car park to receive the news of his success.

“I look forward to working with the other candidates in the best interests of East Antrim,” he stated.

Mr Stewart’s success came at the expense of Sinn Fein’s Oliver McMullan.

The constituency’s only former nationalist MLA claimed that the dearth of transfers to him was down to an “electoral pact” between the rest of the parties against Sinn Fein.

Results centre – every count as it happened – North AntrimEast AntrimSouth AntrimNorth BelfastEast BelfastSouth BelfastWest BelfastStrangfordSouth DownLagan ValleyUpper BannNewry and ArmaghFermanagh South TyroneWest TyroneMid UlsterEast LondonderryFoyleNorth Down

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