The count diary part 1: West Tyrone

As I pulled into the packed car park at Omagh Leisure Centre shortly after 10pm on Thursday night, the self-imposed media blackout of the election day coverage on was just lifting on Radio 4.

At that stage there was little to analyse other than exit polls. But from visiting a couple of polling stations around Mid-Tyrone earlier in the day, it was clear that the voter turnout was down in West Tyrone, a trend that Mark McGregor’s excellent turnout project over at Slugger O’Toole was suggesting was being repeated across the North. But this was to be expected considering that 2005’s general election had been run hand in hand with the local government elections.

However the turnout was down on average there were a number of anomalies as I noted in the Sixmilecross polling station. Box 58, which covered the village of Beragh recorded a 5pm turnout of 40%, which contrasted with another box in the same station which only recorded 22%. Such data may be of use for the next year’s assembly elections.

There was little happening as I took my place in the canteen of the leisure centre other than the media and election teams sizing each other up. Some photographers did get access to the count in the ‘major hall’ downstairs, while the TV and radio crews got set up in the upstairs ‘minor’ hall which adjoined the canteen.

Security was also high early on, with men in white overalls with scanning equipment moving about. Understandable considering the potential there is to hide explosives in a leisure centre.

With the West Tyrone result never in any doubt, it was left for journalists to speculate on turnouts and percentages for the remaining candidates. Towards mid-night information started to trickle upstairs from Sinn Fein that their percentage was closing in on the 50% mark. After 12.20 the results of an SDLP tally count very accurately put Pat Doherty’s vote at 18,050 with Byrne back in third.

When presiding officer Martin Fox made his announcement at 12.40am the results from a total votes of 37,632 were:

Pat Doherty (SF): 18,050

Tom Buchanan (DUP): 7,365

Ross Hussey (UCUNF): 5,281

Joe Byrne (SDLP): 5,212

Michael Bower (APNI): 859

Ciaran McClean (Ind): 508

Spoiled votes: 357

The 61.54% was slightly up on the 60.54% figure suggested twenty minutes earlier, but it was well down from 72.1% in 2005 and a good drop from the 80% who came out in 2001. The one surprise from this predictable ballot was the vote gain by Sinn Fein. Their percentage was expected to go up, but the fact their vote went up as well while the turnout was down gave the local activists something of a boost.

Barry McElduff said the party wasn’t complacent in West Tyrone and it showed. Doherty took an extra 1,140 votes, which can be attributed to both first time voters as well as a share of the Deeny vote for the 2005 hospital campaign.

Pat Doherty described the election as “another magnificent result for West Tyrone” and paid tribute to the party structure in place in the constituency. He also issued a warning  for the role a prospective Tory government might take in the North.

A barely audible Tom Buchanan said he was content that the DUP at least consolidated their vote in West Tyrone (was actually down by 377). He also took a bit of a side swipe at the UUP. Ross Hussey appeared to have a few choice words with Buchanan afterwards.

A resigned Joe Byrne found it difficult to put a positive spin on the SDLP’s worst ever performance in the young constituency (discounting the unique Deeny factor in 2005). They only managed to take about 1,200 votes back from Deeny to take a 14% share.

The combined unionist vote was also down over 2,000 votes from 2001, however their share was up 4% on Willie Thompson’s toll from 2001, when the UUP man stood unopposed as the single unionist candidate.

Moving back into the canteen I found all eyes fixed on the TV. Peter Robinson had just lost his seat to Naomi Long. There were audible gasps and wide grins on some while the DUP members present looked shell-shocked.

The drama that night was only getting started…

See part 2 for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone count.

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About AldousDuke
Mid Tyrone journalist, not so freelance any more.

4 Responses to The count diary part 1: West Tyrone

  1. Maeve says:

    Great blog Ryan, looks really professional!
    Looking forward to reading Part 2!

  2. Mark McGregor says:

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I stand to be corrected but I think Buchanan recorded the DUPs best result of the night, their only increase in percentage terms.

    • AldousDuke says:

      You’re right Mark. Buchanan’s share was the only DUP vote to go up in percentage. But it could be perceived as somewhat hollow if you consider everyone was expected to take a small bounce from the Deeny vote (which went everywhere) and the fact there wasn’t a TUV candidate in West Tyrone.

      I actually think DUP have weathered the TUV campaign quite well and the fact that the seat they did lose was to the AP will show them that it is the positive message that will win votes. McGuinness said on Friday that the TUV are now obsolete and that from looking at North Antrim, unionist voters were getting behind forward looking candidates and rejecting the old negative message.

  3. Ciaran says:

    Ah yes. I’ll never forget the shock when Robbo lost his seat. I mean a real tangible shock could be felt in the canteen. P.s good article, great account of the events.

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