Night of shocks for DUP as Ian Paisley loses family hold on North Antrim

The Paisley family has held the seat for over 50 years

By PA Reporters

The DUP has suffered a bruising set of election results in Northern Ireland with the party suffering a seismic shock when Ian Paisley lost his seat in North Antrim.

In a difficult night for the unionist party, the Alliance Party’s Sorcha Eastwood also had a historic result as she triumphed in the DUP stronghold of Lagan Valley – the seat formerly held by party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

The Paisley family has held the North Antrim seat for more than 50 years, but that legacy has come to an end with the victory of TUV leader Jim Allister in the unionist heartland.

Mr Allister said: “There is no escaping the fact that there has been a political earthquake in North Antrim of seismic proportions.

“Today, we mark an occasion when after 54 years of DUP and Ian Paisley dynasty, North Antrim has taken an alternative course.”

One bright spot in a disappointing night was when DUP leader Gavin Robinson held off the challenge of Alliance Party leader Naomi Long in East Belfast.

With just one out of 18 constituencies still to be declared, Sinn Fein is on course to become the largest party in a Westminster election for the first time after holding all of its seven seats.

The DUP has won four seats and is understood to be narrowly ahead in the East Londonderry constituency.

Sorcha Eastwood defeated DUP candidate Jonathan Buckley in the high-profile contest in Lagan Valley.

Donaldson did not stand for re-election in Lagan Valley, having stepped down as leader in March when he was charged with historical sexual offences – charges he denies.

The DUP has also been under fire from unionist rivals amid claims it oversold a Government package of measures on post-Brexit trading arrangements that the party used to justify the end of its two-year boycott on devolution at Stormont in January.

Reacting to her landmark victory, Ms Eastwood said: “It’s a fantastic night for us but it’s also a fantastic night for the people of Lagan Valley.”

She added: “I’m a Lagan Valley girl born and bred, and this has been in our heart for a long time and I’m just delighted.”

Ms Eastwood said it was a “huge” moment for the party, for her and her community.

However, it was a bittersweet night for the cross-community Alliance Party after it failed to win in its two other main targets – North Down and East Belfast.

DUP leader Mr Robinson defeated Ms Long for the fourth successive election in East Belfast.

He said it was “a good result” for the party after embracing supporters upon his arrival at the Titanic Exhibition Centre.

Mr Robinson said his performance was one that reflects “not only the political campaign our team has run in east Belfast but also in recognition of the people who in this election have come out to vote or come out to vote for the first time in a long time”.

He said he was “incredibly proud” of the DUP’s candidate in Lagan Valley, Mr Buckley, and said the result was a consequence of “divided unionism”.

“In constituencies right across Northern Ireland you can see the consequences of divided unionism,” he said.

In North Down, Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry lost his seat to independent unionist Alex Easton.

Sinn Fein retained its seats in Mid Ulster, North Belfast, Newry and Armagh, South Down, West Belfast and West Tyrone while the DUP held Upper Bann and East Antrim.

Former nursing union boss Pat Cullen held Fermanagh and South Tyrone for the republican party.

Sinn Fein’s emergence as the largest party, after similar results in Assembly and council elections will intensify the debate around the region’s constitutional future.

Ms O’Neill told the BBC: “Our politics is all about the future, it is about what we can do here working together.

“Particularly in this Westminster election this is an opportunity for people to have a say in how they want decisions taken about their lives.

“The fact that we are now the largest party in local government, the largest party in the Assembly and the largest party at Westminster speaks to the fact that I think it is time for change, time for us to be able to take control.

“I look forward to the journey in terms of having the constitutional change conversation, what could that look like?”

The Ulster Unionist Party is returning to Westminster after former Stormont health minister Robin Swann took a seat from the DUP in South Antrim.

However, retired Army colonel Tim Collins, who ran for the UUP in North Down, blamed voters being more interested in “potholes and hedges” than international affairs after conceding defeat before the result was declared.

The SDLP has retained the two seats held in the last parliament by its leader, Colum Eastwood in Foyle, and deputy leader, Claire Hanna in South Belfast and Mid Down.

Mr Eastwood said: “I have to say I’m delighted to see the back of the Tory government.

“Fourteen years of destroying our public services. Fourteen years of destroying the economy. Destroying family finances is now gone.”

Jim Allister of the TUV is Elected in the North Antrim Constituency at Meadowbank Sports Arena, Magherafelt, during the count for the election (Photo by PA)

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