Foster wins by-election

Democratic Unionist Economy Minister Arlene Foster today won a high profile council by-election in the North.

Democratic Unionist Economy Minister Arlene Foster today won a high profile council by-election in the North.

The Presiding Officer announced that Mrs Foster secured 3,165 votes after the second round of transfers to fend off the challenge of Sinn Féin candidate Debbie Coyle, who ended with a tally of 2,383.

The total turnout for the contest in the Co Fermanagh Lakeland area was just more than 50% with 6,380 people voting in yesterday's poll.

The contest in Enniskillen had assumed disproportionate significance given the difficulties of the DUP/Sinn Féin-led administration at Stormont with many viewing it as an effective opinion poll on the performance of the North's two main parties.

It was expected to be a straight fight between Mrs Foster and Sinn Féin's Miss Coyle, but in the event the Ulster Unionists also polled well.

Mrs Foster acclaimed the result as a vindication of her party's call for unionist unity.

She also criticised the UUP, a party she once belonged to, for forcing the by-election and running what she described as a personal and vindictive campaign against her.

"I am very pleased to have fought this campaign on a positive platform of unionist unity and the unionist electorate have responded to that," she said.

Defeated Ulster Unionist Basil Johnston defended his party's decision not to support the straight co-option of a DUP candidate, without the need for a by-election, after the death of DUP veteran councillor Joe Dodds.

"It was important that the people had a voice and if it had been a co-option they would have been denied that," he said.

Party colleague and Fermanagh and South Tyrone Assembly member Tom Elliott claimed the DUP had no right to criticise negative campaigning given their own comments about Ulster Unionists down the years.

The DUP first preference vote was up nearly 3% from the last council election in 2005, with the Ulster Unionists also improving by more than 2%.

Sinn Féin's vote remained steady with a slight increase while the real losers were the SDLP, whose vote collapsed by 7%.

Sinn Féin candidate Ms Coyle said she was disappointed that the seat had not gone to the republicans.

"But I'm pleased that our vote is higher than last time," she said. "That means our campaign went well and gives us a strong footing for future elections in Enniskillen and across Fermanagh."

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