Gildernew returns as victor in Fermanagh and South Tyrone

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 8th June 2017 - Westminster General Election 2017.
Michelle Gildernew celebrates  at the election count at Omagh Leisure Complex Omagh for West Tyrone and Fermanagh & South Tyrone.Photo by John McVitty / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 8th June 2017 - Westminster General Election 2017. Michelle Gildernew celebrates at the election count at Omagh Leisure Complex Omagh for West Tyrone and Fermanagh & South Tyrone.Photo by John McVitty / Press Eye.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew has beaten the UUP’s Tom Elliott with 25,230 votes retaking the Westminster seat she lost two years ago.

Unlike recent contests, this Fermanagh and South Tyrone election was relatively without drama and over after six hours of counting.

“We tried to get our message across: there’s a lot of fear and anxiety about Brexit and what that will mean for people here in Fermanagh South Tyrone,” Ms Gildernew told supporters at Omagh Leisure Centre following her win, which was announced in the early hours of the morning.

Ms Gildernew, who was the MP for the area for 14 years until 2015, will now seek speaking rights at the Dáil.

“Tory austerity is going to really impact on the most vulnerable people in our community and it is our job to work on behalf of everybody. It will not be easy over the next number of years but I can tell you this: I and team Sinn Féin are up for the challenge,” she said.

The turnout was much higher than last time with 76.08 per cent of people turning out to vote in the rural constituency with 53,714 votes polled.

One of the issues that dominated Ms Gildernew’s campaign was Brexit and the potential impact of that in a Border area such as Fermanagh and South Tyrone which voted to remain in the European Union.

Ms Gildernew has spent months criticising Mr Elliott, a Brexiter, for voting for Article 50 while he was MP, and has been calling for special status for Northern Ireland.

A member of Mr Elliott’s camp described the atmosphere following his defeat “as like something from a wake”. He was not in the hall when Ms Gildernew was declared the winner.

Ms Gildernew said he had engaged in a “sectarian campaign” and much was made of his continued reluctance to attend GAA matches.

Mr Elliott received 24,355 votes while SDLP’s Mary Garrity picked up 2,587 votes, Tanya Jones of the Green Party received 423 votes and Alliance’s Noreen Campbell received 886 votes.