It was a “historic moment” for Alliance in East Antrim in the Assembly elections, with the centre-ground party winning two seats for the first time in what is a solid unionist constituency.
The party’s incumbent MLA Stewart Dickson and his running mate Danny Donnelly made the breakthrough during a day which witnessed a surge in the party’s vote.
But it was the end of an era for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) with veteran MLA Roy Beggs forced to bow out after representing the area since 1998.
On the podium in the Jordanstown count centre, Mr Dickson said the MLAs would be sitting down with their party leader on Monday to get “down to business”.
“Today is an historic moment for the Alliance Party in East Antrim. It is the first time we have elected two Assembly members [in this constituency]. We passed the job interview and we are ready, willing and able to do the job for you.”
Despite an overall drop in the DUP’s first-preference votes across the North, the party’s Gordon Lyons and David Hilditch were re-elected in East Antrim.
Mr Lyons, who has served as a Stormont minister for the economy, repeated the words of his party’s leader Jeffrey Donaldson, warning that “when unionism is divided it does not win”, and raised concerns about a Sinn Féin win in the elections hastening a Border poll.
“We need to focus on the issues that matter,” he said.
Ulster Unionist John Stewart topped the poll with 6,195 votes and paid tribute to Mr Beggs, describing it as a “bittersweet day”: “We increased our vote as [a] party but I am very sad to lose Ray who represented the area so ably for 24 years.”
If the TUV was going to make a gain in the elections, it was reckoned that East Antrim was its best shot, but candidate Norman Boyd lost out to the DUP’s David Hilditch in the fifth count.
Sinn Féin’s Oliver McMullan also failed to get re-elected, having lost his seat back in 2017.
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