Robinson tops Assembly poll

Peter Robinson's journey to political redemption reached another landmark as he topped the Assembly poll in the East Belfast constituency where he lost his Westminster seat.

Peter Robinson's journey to political redemption reached another landmark as he topped the Assembly poll in the East Belfast constituency where he lost his Westminster seat.

Twelve months ago the DUP leader experienced the lowest point of his career at Ards Leisure Centre, relinquishing the seat he held for 31 years, a defeat largely blamed on the fall-out from the scandal that engulfed his wife Iris.

He cut an altogether different figure at the centre tonight as delirious supporters cheered him to the rafters as he emerged as top dog in East Belfast.

His 9,149 first preference votes was almost 5,000 more than second placed Alliance candidate Judith Cochrane.

Alliance's Chris Lyttle was next with the DUP's other two candidates - Sammy Douglas and Robin Newton - also polling strongly.

All will be expected to take seats when counting begins again today.

The UUP's Michael Copeland looks favourite to take the sixth seat ahead of independent incumbent Dawn Purvis and PUP leader Brian Ervine.

With his son Gareth and daughter Rebekah close by, Mr Robinson thanked the voters.

"I am very grateful to the people of East Belfast," he said.

He said he did not want to dwell on last year's personal disappointment in the General Election and would instead look forward.

"None of us can change history - it's there and we have to deal with it. What I want to do is to look to the future. I want to see the Democratic Unionist Party taking the lead at Stormont and moving Northern Ireland on."

He also expressed confidence that the DUP would retain the Westminster seat he lost to the Alliance's Naomi Long in four years, but would not be drawn on whether he would stand again.

"It will be regained," he said. "I hope we have a first class candidate and I am pretty sure we will. And the Alliance must be quaking in their boots at this stage because we have twice as many votes as them and we are ready to go on."

Despite Mr Robinson's huge personal tally, the Alliance also performed well.

Buoyed by the bounce from Ms Long's win in 2010, the party polled strongly in the constituency and looked set to double their sole Assembly seat count.

Mr Lyttle said he was happy with the result.

"It's a really good result and to see both candidates hopefully over the line tomorrow morning," he said.

"Obviously Peter Robinson has been declared on the first vote there but as First Minister I think that was to be expected. I think the real news tomorrow could be continued strong support for Alliance in East Belfast."

A total of 32,347 valid votes were cast with a turnout of 53.6%.

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