ULSTER Unionist candidate, Bill Kennedy, whose hopes of a seat at Stormont were dashed at the weekend, says he will never stand again in an Assembly election.
Mr. Kennedy who was pipped at the post by his UUP running mate Robin Swann in a close contest said he was very disappointed at the outcome, but delighted that at least one Unionist candidate had maintained the party’s representation for the North Antrim constituency.
Reflecting on a campaign which saw him poll just three hundred or so votes short of Mr. Swann, the Armoy businessman said he was pleased that the electorate in Ballymoney and Moyle had given him such an encouraging endorsement.
“I only had a third of the area of Robin Swann allocated to me and I think I did very well in coming so close to his total. He had 2518 while I got 2189 so the gap wasn’t too bad,” Mr. Kennedy said.
He added: “But that’s it. The canvassing and the build up to the election took up a lot of time and effort and I wouldn’t go through it again. I’ll still remain an active member of the Ulster Unionist party and do what I can to improve our standing in North Antrim, but as far as any further elections are concerned, forget it. That was enough.”
The Ulster Unionist party took a clobbering in North Antrim with the DUP jubilant at retaining three representatives. The electorate spoke loudly and clearly even in the absence of the name Paisley from the ballot papers and it was no real surprise that they gained three seats with Ballymena man, Paul Frew, topping the poll on 6581 votes. Mervyn Storey came third with 6083 and reflects the good standing he has throughout the constituency. Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay, who was a certainty to regain his seat, split the DUP pairing with a total of 6152.
David McIlveen also kept the DUP’s domination intact when he got elected with a final total of 3275 votes. The fourth DUP candidate, Evelyne Robinson, polled a respectable 3256 votes, but still ended up in eighth position.
A casualty of the re-designated boundaries was the SDLP’s Declan O’Loan who lost in a nail biting struggle to Robin Swann. The transfers had brought Bill Kennedy ahead of Swann at one stage, but when Jayne Dunlop of the Alliance party, who polled a respectable 1848 votes, was eliminated, her transfers took him home.
The TUV’s Jim Allister who put in much time and effort and easily outstripped the other parties in terms of postering was the only person from his party to gain a seat at Stormont, gaining 4061votes.
The party admitted they were disappointed with the overall performance.
Mr. Allister’s running mate, Audrey Patterson, took just 668 votes. Mrs. Patterson did not seek re-election to Ballymoney Councl instead chosing to run in the Assembly and the gamble did not pay off.
It was clear from comments that there is no love lost between the DUP and the TUV.
Mervyn Storey and Ian Paisley Junior were particularly critical of their former party colleague with Mr. Storey saying they would not be “wasting their time on Jim Allister. He is an irrelevance.”
Mr. Allister said he feared unionism had “bought into sleepwalking towards a united Ireland” and warned that there would come a day when you will maybe extract this from the archives and many unionists will wake up and say ‘pity we didn’t waken up sooner.’”
The turnout was 54.8 per cent, but a large number of Unionists supporters decided not to vote with many declaring they had little faith in their representatives.
It was also acknowledged by UUP supporters that the DUP yet again outflanked them in terms of their electoral message and their ability to vote manage the constituency.
One Unionist source said: “The DUP had the message that they were the only unionist party to govern and that the days of political bickering were over struck a chord with the electorate.
“People are looking for good governance now with bread and butter issues more important than sniping at each other over tribal matters. The Unionist party shot themselves in the foot time and time again and unless they carry out a root and branch examination and make fundamental changes to the way they operate they are going nowhere.”
Some, however, felt it was unfortunate that the likes of Bill Kennedy failed to get a seat. He would have established an office in Ballymoney alongside the DUP’s Mervyn Storey which would have given locals a greater freedom of choice.
And there would also have been a small piece of history created by the fact that the village of Armoy would have produced two senior politicans at Stormont had he gained a seat.