DUP in disappointing election as deputy leader slumps to unprecedented defeat

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has lost his seat in a disastrous election for his party.

He slumped to unprecedented defeat to Sinn Fein’s John Finucane in a North Belfast campaign dominated by Brexit and the fate of the union. It was the first time a nationalist has ever held the economically deprived constituency.

A party which has dominated unionist politics for more than a decade also surrendered its South Belfast seat to the nationalist SDLP.

The Democratic Unionists also failed to capture its key target of North Down as it succumbed to a surging cross-community Alliance Party which has consolidated the middle-ground gains of recent polls.

The DUP has lost two of the 10 MPs it entered the election with and, symbolically, there are now more nationalists and republican members of Parliament from Northern Ireland than unionists.

Leader Arlene Foster said she was hugely disappointed but rejected any suggestion her leadership was under threat.

“It was very clear in both North Belfast and South Belfast that nationalism came together and decided they were going to get rid of Emma (Little Pengelly) and Nigel (Dodds).

“We fought very hard against that but the numbers were against us in both constituencies.”

She added: “If you look at the votes you will find the greater number of people in Northern Ireland still want to remain within the UK.

“That to me is a very important point.”

Sinn Fein believes Brexit offers fresh opportunities for a United Ireland if Remain-supporting Northern Ireland is taken out of the EU against its will next year.

Mr Dodds’ loss will represent the DUP’s biggest wound, with the long-standing MP who led the party at Westminster falling in the most high-profile contest of the election.

Mr Finucane’s solicitor father Pat was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in one of the most notorious incidents of the Troubles.

He said: “On a night like tonight when it is all still very surreal I can’t help but think of my father and where we have come from not just as a family but as a society as well.”

Mr Dodds (pictured) said it was clear Brexit was going to happen with the Prime Minister’s predicted majority and it was important to restore devolved powersharing at Stormont.

He added: “But Boris Johnson needs to understand that we must have a Brexit that ensures that it protects the integrity of the United Kingdom and is the best deal for Northern Ireland and that is something we will continue to work with the Government on in the days ahead.”

Across the city in South Belfast, the DUP lost its seat to the nationalist SDLP’s Claire Hanna.

The party’s leader Colum Eastwood triumphed over Sinn Fein in the Foyle constituency in the north west with a majority of more than 17,000.

The staunchly pro-Remain Alliance Party took Northern Ireland’s first Westminster seat in a major setback for the DUP.

Deputy leader Stephen Farry cruised to victory with a majority of almost 3,000 votes in the affluent Belfast commuter constituency of North Down.

The seat had been a key target for the DUP after outgoing independent unionist MP Lady Sylvia Hermon decided not to run again.

Mr Farry’s victory provides further evidence of Alliance gains, coming as it does after a series of positive elections for the middle-ground cross-community party.

The result landed another blow to the DUP.

The Conservative majority at Westminster will see the party lose its influential position as Westminster kingmaker.

Mr Farry hailed his resounding vote as a blow against Brexit and pledged to work in Westminster to frustrate the EU exit.

“This is a victory for the values that this constituency has been known for for many years, those of moderation, rationalism and inclusion,” he said.

He added: “They have come together behind a single cause, of sending out a very powerful message that the North Down area wants to Remain.

“We believe that there is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit.

“Indeed, all forms of Brexit are damaging to the UK and to us in Northern Ireland and in particular the Boris Johnson deal.”

The DUP is vehemently opposed to Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal, claiming it will create economic borders down the Irish Sea and weaken Northern Ireland’s place within the union.

Long-standing DUP MP Sammy Wilson, who retained his East Antrim seat, insisted his party could still secure changes to the agreement despite the predicted Tory majority.

“Obviously we’d have preferred to be in a situation we were in the last parliament where we did have the influence and where it was fairly marginal, however for the country it probably wasn’t a great thing because no decisions could be made,” he said.

“I still wouldn’t be totally dismayed insofar as a big majority could actually mean that Boris Johnson can go in and be fairly bullish with the EU when it comes to negotiations, and if he does do that then many of the problems the current deal is going to cause Northern Ireland could disappear.”

The election comes ahead of the latest bid to resurrect the crisis-hit institutions at Stormont.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Liam McBurney / PA Wire.