The North’s First Minister Peter Robinson sensationally lost his Westminster seat for east Belfast today.
The MP, whose wife Iris quit in disgrace as MP for Strangford after admitting to an affair, was beaten by the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long, the lord mayor of Belfast, to leave Democratic Unionist Party supporters gasping in disbelief.
Mr Robinson’s support was expected to dip because of his involvement in a controversial land deal, but nobody – not even in the Alliance Party – expected this result which represented an unbelievable 22.9% swing in support.
The defeat was a stunning setback for Mr Robinson who had held the seat since 1979. It was confirmed just minutes after his colleague Ian Paisley Jnr took over from his father as MP for North Antrim.
His big and bitter rival Jim Allister of Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) had been expected to mount a major challenge because of his opposition to Unionists sitting with Sinn Féin in the powersharing government at Stormont.
But he trailed in a poor second, more than 12,500 votes behind Mr Paisley who was favourite to win, but not by such a massive majority. His father, the Rev. Ian Paisley, held the seat for 40 years.
The future of Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey will be in doubt if he fails to oust the DUP’s William McCrea in south Antrim. But it was neck-and-neck in Fermanagh/South Tyrone where Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew faced huge challenge from Independent Unionist Rodney Connor. The turnout was in the high 70s.
Counting at the Templemore sports centre in Derry had to be suspended because of a bomb alert. The building was evacuated when a car, hijacked earlier in the city, was abandoned in an adjoining car park.
Police moved quickly to evacuate the building where counting was taking place in the Foyle and East Derry constituencies.
As well as the election staff, supporters of some of the candidates left as well and waited on nearby sports pitches. Elderly people living closeby had to leave their homes also.
Dissident republicans opposed to the Sinn Féin peace process strategy were blamed for the incident.
Police who had been on high alert throughout the North because of the security threat had feared some sort of attack, especially in Derry where the dissidents have some support in the city’s nationalist districts.
All doors in the counting hall were locked and sealed, and will not been re-opened until the all-clear is given.