Sinn Fein veteran Francie Molloy, once a director of elections for Bobby Sands, has been elected to retain the Westminster seat of Mid-Ulster in succession to Martin McGuinness.
Molloy, 62, beat a coalition Unionist candidate Nigel Lutton. Molloy was once accused under parliamentary privilege of being part of an IRA unit that killed Lutton’s policeman reservist father in 1979, a claim he has consistently denied.
Molloy, outgoing principal deputy speaker at the Northern Ireland Assembly, will not sit in Westminster, in line with Sinn Fein policy of abstaining from the House of Commons. But he insisted he will still represent everybody in the constituency in the wake of his by-election victory.
McGuinness, who is deputy first minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, vacated his Westminster seat in line with his party’s policy of no double-jobbing among its abstentionist MPs and assembly members.
He held Mid-Ulster for15 years, and it was reckoned to be a “safe” Sinn Fein stronghold, although the party’s vote was down almost 10,000 votes in the by-election. That was attributed mainly to the loss of a personal vote for McGuinness and complacency within the party.
Molloy, at 17,462 votes, was still 4,601 votes more than Lutton’s 12,781.
At the count in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, McGuinness blamed the media for insisting it was a safe Sinn Fein seat. He said complacency had set in as a result of that. Still, he maintained, it was a great result for Molloy and for Sinn Fein.
As widely predicted, there was no handshake between Molloy and Lutton after the count, but the Unionist candidate said the two exchanged hellos.
Within days of the count, McGuinness and Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson flew to Brazil on a five-day promotion trip. They said they are hoping to promote economic development, trade, tourism, university and sporting links between Brazil and Northern Ireland.
The visit is part of the Northern Ireland Executive’s wider international objectives aimed at establishing relations with the world’s most quickly developing economies.