New Sinn Féin MP hopes for ‘new chapter’ after McElduff controversy

Newly elected Sinn Féin MP Órfhlaith Begley used her victory speech to attempt to draw a line under the controversial tweet that forced the resignation of her predecessor as West Tyrone MP.

The election was called following the resignation of Sinn Féin MP Barry McElduff in January, 10 days after he posted a video of himself with a Kingsmill-branded loaf on his head on the anniversary of the 1976 Kingsmill massacre.

Newly elected Sinn Fein MP Orfhlaith Begley (centre) celebrates with party leaders Michelle O'Neill (left) and Mary Lou McDonald (right)

Newly elected Sinn Fein MP Orfhlaith Begley (centre) celebrates with party leaders Michelle O'Neill (left) and Mary Lou McDonald (right)

Órfhlaith Begley won the subsequent by-election for Sinn Féin with a reduced share for her party of the overall vote. She polled 16,436 votes, 46.6% of the overall total. That represents a significant decline, amid reduced overall turnout, from the 22,060 achieved by Barry McElduff in 2017 and a 4% drop in vote share.

In her victory speech, Ms Begley made an apparent reference to Mr McElduff’s tweet.

“In going forward it is vital that people in public life acknowledge the pain that exists and across all communties, at all times, to be sensitive in their words and how their words can be understood,” she said.

“We remember that in the time ahead. But tonight is a new chapter for West Tyrone. What I’m about is building for the future, reaching out to unionism and building bridges between our communities.”

Meanwhile, both of Northern Ireland’s two largest parties seen a reduction in their overall vote share, with the SDLP, UUP and Alliance benefiting.

While the DUP candidate Thomas Buchanan celebrated having narrowed “the gap” on Sinn Féin in the overwhelmingly nationalist constituency, his percentage share had actually declined from 27% in 2017 to 23% in the by-election.

Mr Buchanan prefered to focus on the positives, saying: “I am pleased that the gap between Sinn Fein and the DUP in the constituency has been narrowed from the last election. The DUP is clearly the voice of unionism in West Tyrone and this result represents the second highest vote share ever for the party.”

The UUP candidate this time around, Fermanagh and Omagh councillor Chris Smyth seen his party’s share of the vote increase from 5.2% to 8.3%. The overall UUP vote also increased, from the 2,253 polled by Alicia Clarke in 2017 to 2,909 this time around.

He said: “We were out to get as strong a performance as possible. I’m confident in my unionism, I’ll continue to stand up for the innocent victims of terrorism and I’ll continue to represent the future of unionism.”

He added: “Unionism has got to keep its head up west of the Bann, where we’re not in the majority. We’ve got to keep battling. We can’t allow ourselves to be browbeaten.”

The SDLP and the Alliance Party also increased their vote shares.

SDLP candidate and West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan polled 6,254, or 17.9%, compared to the 5,635, or 13%, he managed last time around.

Alliance candidate Stephen Donnelly added 130 votes to the 1,000 he managed in 2017, bringing his share of the vote up from 2.3% last time to 3.2% this time around.

Turnout was down from 68.2% in 2017 to 55.13% this time.