Francie Molloy retains Mid-Ulster seat for Sinn Féin

Friday 08 March 2013 19.31
Francie Molloy will replace outgoing MP Martin McGuinness
Francie Molloy will replace outgoing MP Martin McGuinness

Sinn Féin has retained its seat in the Mid-Ulster Westminster by-election with its candidate, Francie Molloy, receiving 46.9% of the vote.

He will succeed party colleague Martin McGuinness, who stepped down as MP for the area in order to concentrate on his role as NI Deputy First Minister in the power-sharing administration.

Sinn Féin's overall share of the vote was down more than five percentage points since the last Westminster election.

The three main unionist parties fielded an agreed candidate, Nigel Lutton, a local undertaker.

He managed to increase the overall unionist share of the vote by almost two percentage points to 34.4%.

The SDLP's candidate, Patsy McGlone, took 17.4% of the vote, an increase of three percentage points on the 2010 result.

The fourth candidate in the contest, Eric Bullick of Alliance, received 487 votes, 1.3% of the total, which was an increase of 0.3 percentage points.

The turnout was 55.7%, down from 63.2% in 2010.

When the count concluded, Mr Lutton described himself as the undertaker who had resurrected unionism.

He told reporters that there had been "hellos" but no handshake between him and the successful candidate in the count centre.

He added: "You have got to be decent to everyone as best you can".

In 2006 a DUP MP, David Simpson, had used parliamentary privilege in Westminster to allege that Mr Molloy had been a suspect in the IRA murder of Mr Lutton's father, a retired RUC member, in 1979.

At all times Mr Molloy denied the claim and he challenged Mr Simpson to repeat them outside Westminster.

The two main unionist parties, the DUP and the Ulster Unionists, may now consider if they will use the same strategy of fielding an agreed candidate in future elections, particularly in constituencies where the unionist/nationalist balance is tighter.