BELFAST: Sinn Fein veteran Francie Molloy insisted his party colleague Martin McGuinness would be a hard act to follow after winning the Westminster seat vacated by Stormont’s deputy first minister.
Molloy, the outgoing principal deputy speaker at the Northern Ireland Assembly, vowed to represent all the people of the Mid Ulster constituency in the wake of his by-election victory.
“I would like to thank my colleague and comrade Martin McGuinness for the work he has done this past 15 years in moving Mid Ulster forward,” said Molloy after the results were declared at Cookstown Leisure Centre.
“Martin is going to be a hard act to follow, I understand that, but we will try our best to do that and we will continue to build the process and work with everyone - I want to represent all the people of Mid Ulster, not just those who voted for me, not just the Sinn Fein support.”
In keeping with Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy, Molloy will not take his seat in the House of Commons.
Sinn Fein saw its majority substantially cut from 15,363 at the 2010 general election to 4,681.
A lower turnout - down from 63.23 per cent in 2010 to 55.38 per cent - and the emergence of a unified unionist candidate were undoubted factors in the reduction.
However, the Sinn Fein share of the vote also reduced from 2010 (52 per cent to 46.93 per cent) while other parties made some in-roads against its dominant position.
Molloy secured 17,462 votes to the 12,781 (34.35 per cent) polled by his closest rival, agreed unionist Nigel Lutton.
Of the remaining two candidates, Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) candidate Patsy McGlone polled 6,478 votes and the Alliance Party’s Eric Bullick secured 487.
The Sdlp’s share of vote was up from 14.26 per cent in 2010 to 17.41 per cent this time round while Alliance’s also went up slightly (1.31 per cent from 0.97 per cent.
The by-election campaign was played out under the shadow of a historic Troubles murder
The highly emotive contest saw Molloy come face to face with Lutton - the son of a former policeman whose murder the senior republican was alleged in the House of Commons to have had a role in.