DUP pair elected as party secures two seats

DUP pair elected as party secures two seats

11 May 2022

DESPITE her party’s declining fortunes across Northern Ireland, Michelle McIlveen ensured the Strangford constituency clung on to its traditions as a largely DUP stronghold by polling the second highest number of first preference votes.

Ms Mclveen — who has held ministerial positions since 2015 — had to wait before her election was officially 

declared but when it finally came she was very humble.

It had been a comfortable win for McIlveen, attracting 6,601 first preference votes, but coming under the quota of 6811 she had to wait until the fifth count to claim her seat. But that came as no surprise. 

Her transferred votes, distributed at stage six of the count, also helped secure the success of running mate Harry Harvey, who became an MLA in 2019, replacing Simon Hamilton within the constituency when the latter resigned his spot.

Mrs McIlveen, a former minister of both Education and Regional Development, has represented Strangford for 15 years, but she described her victory as ‘bittersweet’.

Although it was a personal win for her, it was a tough blow after the third running mate fielded by the DUP, another former Stormont minister, Peter Weir, lost his seat.

Ms McIlveen said she had fought a long campaign. “I’m absolutely delighted, personally, for myself, but for the party also,” she remarked.

“My main focus is always delivering for the people of Strangford and I am happy that that hard work has paid off.

“For me it’s very much about the party and there has still been a considerable increase in the constituency so from Monday it’s back to the grindstone again and we will build on that increase and I am looking forward to continuing to represent the people of Strangford.

“But I’ve also lost a colleague and friend in Peter Weir, who I have known for so long, since I was a teenager when I met him at Queen’s.

“I have a long history with him so it’s a concern for him too at this point.”

She added “It’s lovely to have the confidence of the people and I hope I don’t let them down in future.”

Mr Harvey was jubilant when his place among the final five elected candidates was confirmed.

He looked jubilant when he was officially returned to serve the people of Strangford on the sixth count. He smiled broadly for photographers alongside running mate Michelle McIlveen and later with party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson when he appeared at the count.

Mr Harvey thanked the electorate who came out to support him, particularly those in his core support areas of Derryboye, Ballynahinch, Saintfield, Killinchy and Killyleagh, as well as Ballywalter. In total, some 4,704 people across the constituency had made him their top choice.

He joked that his step count must have topped 20,000 each day of his campaign, which had included support teams of 6-12 people who canvassed on his behalf.

He also quipped that he owed his tanned face due to the campaign trail while traversing the streets of Strangford.

An a more serious note, he said ratepayers had shared their concerns about a diverse range of issues.

Mr Harvey, whose father Cecil had been a member of the first Assembly in 1973, commented: “In overall terms the Northern Ireland Protocol wasn’t the first thing on people’s minds but it is a real issue and people do want it sorted.” 

“However, the people have the confidence in what we are doing.”

He said other issues that emerged as the most pressing on people’s minds were ‘important ones’ like the health service and the cost of living.

“We talked to normal people, who had normal issues on their minds like the NHS. We know the needs of the health service and we have to deliver on that.”

Mr Harvey, whose wife is a practice nurse and his daughter is set to enter nursing, said people “loved the NHS” and that it was very dear to his heart.

The MLA added that this year’s election was particularly poignant as it had fallen on the birthday of his late mother, May.

He also said he wanted to take the opportunity to thank all the people of the constituency who had helped donate essential items for 40 containers, which were destined for the besieged people of Ukraine.

The DUP’s delight at clinching these two seats in Strangford was tempered by the departure of Mr Weir.

Despite his disappointment, Mr Weir said: “I have a passion for politics, a passion for serving people and a passion for unionism, so I don’t intend to walk away from politics.

“I will have to see what direction life will take me next.”