Heartland beats for Republicans
Posted By: March 04, 2017
Allison Morris.Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, March 4, 2017
THE mood in the Sinn Féin heartland of west Belfast had been one of optimism since the confirmation six weeks ago that voters were heading to the polls again.
But only the most optimistic could have predicted such a massive swing back to the party.
Newcomer Órlaithí Flynn topped the poll, elected on the first count with 6,918 first-preference votes.
The 29-year-old, from a well-known Republican family, was always going to be a popular choice and represents the new face of Sinn Féin at Stormont.
But if Republicans needed any reassurance that their decision to pull the plug on the power-sharing executive was the right move, the turnout in West Belfast and almost overwhelming support for the party’s four candidates was a perfect endorsement.
With two-thirds of those eligible in the constituency casting their vote, Sinn Féin finished with almost 62 per cent of first preferences – up seven per cent on last year.
While few were surprised that Alex Attwood lost out in the new five-seat battle, the speed at which he went out – on the second count – will have cut deep.
A former minister and one of the party’s key policy makers, his loss will be keenly felt by the SDLP, but with just 3,452 first preference votes in a constituency where Dr. Joe Hendron once served as MP, it was clear the electorate didn’t share that sentiment.
The story of the day was the dramatic fall in support for People Before Profit (PBP) Alliance.
Gerry Carroll topped the poll in West Belfast just eight months ago with more than 8,000 first preference votes.
This time out he had a respectable but greatly reduced total of 4,903. Even combined with his party colleague Michael Collins’s 1,096 votes, it is a drop that must surely cause the party to reflect on where they went wrong.
With an increased voter turnout, that meant an eight per cent drop in the share of the vote for a party which admitted the snap election was not well timed for it.
Reasons vary from Sinn Féin taking backs votes previously ‘borrowed’ to the party to being punished for its pro-Brexit stance, which will not have played out well with the youth vote. The only unionist with any chance in west Belfast, the DUP’s Frank McCoubrey, polled a respectable 4,063, but with little in the way of transfers coming his way, it looks like he’s also reached the end of the road. As it stands, it’s looking like four Sinn Féin and one PBP to make up the five West Belfast seats.
It was a result predicted by some political commentators, but few could have envisaged the scale of Sinn Féin’s victory.
When the results of this election are analyzed, this will be the constituency that will be pointed to as best reflecting Sinn Féin’s resurgence.