The count diary part 3: FST – Friday

By the next morning Sinn Fein were out in force. Adams, McGuinness, DeBruin and Ruane arrived in Omagh as the count reconvened a little later than the 11am indicated the night before.

This recount would be slow and methodical to guarantee a precise result and it would be three long hours before the result would be known.

The intervening hours were spent trying to extract nuggets of information from those who had access to the count down below. There was little information from anyone, but eventually rumours of 36 disputed ballot papers started to emerge.

The disgruntlement appeared to be stemming from the Connor camp according to Sinn Fein, who claimed to know nothing of the papers other than what they were hearing from journalists.

By half two in the afternoon with tiredness beginning to consume me and I joined the perpetual canteen queue for a strong black coffee. As the coffee was eventually handed over some ten minutes later a Sinn Fein tally counter burst into the canteen once again in a fit of nervous excitement. “We won by four,” he said as the Sinn Fein support leapt to their feet in disbelief. The roar went up and the flashes went mad again as clipboard was shown around. The figures in pencil read 21,300 and 21,304.

The figures throughout the 4 counts had shifted as follows:

Connor – 21,296  Gildernew – 21,288 (1st count) RC +8

Connor – 21,295  Gildernew – 21,305 (1st recount) MG +10

Connor – 21,298  Gildernew – 21,300 (2nd recount) MG +2

Connor – 21,300  Gildernew – 21,304 (3rd recount) MG +4

Emotions ran high as Gildernew’s support clasped each other, women cried and men slapped backs as they moved into the hall for the official announcement. A tricolour was brandished and flashes broke about again. Sinn Fein Councillor Declan McAleer then sprinted in with a banner which when unveiled showed a portrait of Bobby Sands with his famous words, “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.”

Michelle Gildernew appeared from below to be met with hugs from family and the Sinn Fein leadership. Things almost got a bit ugly when Connor’s support came in from the canteen brandishing a union jack and cheering. Although it was met with a chorus of laughter initially, emotions ran high. A small woman in her 60s (who must’ve been the most emotional woman there after Gildernew) ran toward them with fist above her head roaring, “Tiocfaidh ar la!”

McGuinness and Adams moved quickly, with the Deputy First Minister telling the Sinn Fein support to “Just ignore them, we do our thing, let them do their thing.”

Adams followed this up by assuming attention and addressing their supporters in a few words of Irish and assuring the crowd, “The victory is Irish, be tolerant, be respectful.”

Listen here to Adams’ words (The alert sound you hear was a badly timed mobile phone going off!)

With the crowd refocused, Gildernew joined independent candidate John Stevenson on stage who was enjoying his moment. Presiding officer Martin Fox declared the result as follows:

Rodney Connor (Ind): 21,300

Michelle Gildernew (SF): 21,304

Vasundhara Kamble (AP): 437

Fearghal McKinney (SDLP): 3,574

John Stevenson (Ind): 188

The speeches given by Gildernew, Connor and McKinney can be listened to in my previous blog post. John Stevenson got a good cheer from the Gildernew support when his result was announced, which inspired the heckle from the Connor camp, “Look where your support is coming from John.”

Listen here to John Stevenson’s short speech from a short political career

Fearghal McKinney looked a destroyed man as he spoke on the podium. To say he looked uncomfortable when he began to speak is an understatement to say the least. But as he continued he grew in stature and confidence and he did speak well. It has been a baptism of fire for McKinney, who will now find it difficult to salvage his political career.

Tom Elliott, the FST MLA spoke about the possibility of a legal challenge afterwards, but I think even he knows that a judge will be extremely reluctant to overturn an electoral decision. The 2001 legal challenge reportedly cost rate payers £50,000 and this angle may leave Connor open to attack and possibly stir up slurs about the pension he draws after retiring as Fermanagh District Council’s chief executive.

Arlene Foster was left to lament another Westminster term without representation for unionists in Fermanagh South Tyrone. This was a brutal result for the unity camp who clearly looked gutted.

On the other side of the room Martin McGuinness was assuring journalists that the victory was every bit as significant Bobby Sands’ 1981 victory in the same seat.

With the official business over, and journalists rushing to submit their copy, the Sinn Fein contingent finished the day’s business with a cavalcade of cars touring Omagh, to the well worn tune from the campaign of “something inside so strong” blaring from speakers.

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

3 Responses to The count diary part 3: FST – Friday

  1. alex says:

    A very historic victory and I was glad to be there on the first night/morning at least.
    Can’t see where Mc Kinney goes from here because surely Tommy Gallagher would have to be standing for the assembly seat if the SDLP are to have any hope of keeping it.
    Mc Kinney will be forever known as the ‘vote splitter’.

  2. Ryan Tierney says:

    Enjoying the election coverage Aldous – how do you see Stormont proposals for a unity voting block at Westminister working out? Lib-Lab-NI coalition workable?

  3. Maeve says:

    Really interesting to read your insight into this count Ryan, and I agree, the thought of endless streams of ‘A-lister’ NI politicians hanging around the leisure centre at 4.35am is definitely more traffic than that area has seen at that time, possibly ever!

    Very tight race, on a personal level it is a pity that those who voted for Gildernew won’t have their votes reflected by her attendance in Westminster but that’s another story. Combined with this blog post and your West Tyrone review, it really illustrates the fall of the SDLP who don’t even seem to factor any more in these two areas and like your above commenter noted, are more likely to split votes rather than sustain anything notable themselves in these constituencies, at least.

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