Palmer returns to haunt DUP

Jenny Palmer's reaction at the initial count announcement.

 Photograph: Declan Roughan
Jenny Palmer's reaction at the initial count announcement. Photograph: Declan Roughan

A former DUP whistleblower took a second seat for the Ulster Unionists in Lagan Valley while her former party’s representation has been cut from four to three seats.

Jenny Palmer’s election was greeted with rapturous applause from supporters at the Leisureplex count centre in Lisburn - while the DUP contingent across the room lamented the loss of highly regarded MLA Jonathan Craig.

Whilst a DUP councillor, Mrs Palmer crossed swords with the party and eventually resigned after claiming she was put under pressure to change her vote on a Housing Executive board matter.

Despite the UUP’s success, Lagan Valley remains a DUP stronghold with its four candidates polling more than 18,000 first preference votes.

Paul Givan of the DUP was the first of the six candidates elected in the constituency after no one made the 5,551 quota on the first count.

Trevor Lunn of Alliance did well from the early transfers and was the second candidate officially elected.

Both Mrs Palmer and her UUP running mate Robbie Butler polled strongly on first preference votes and gathered in a steady stream of transfers as the other candidates were eliminated.

A radical overhaul of the DUP’s vote management - including Edwin Poots campaigning in a much smaller area at the cost of more than 3,000 first preference votes - came close to getting four MLAs returned. The big winner for the party was Brenda Hale who added an additional 1,300 votes to her 2011 total.

In his first acceptance speech as an MLA, Mr Butler said his faith would shape his political contribution.

“I am a Christian. I hold true to my faith,” he said.

Mr Poots - who will serve a fifth term at Stormont - described the election outcome as “a tremendous result” for the DUP and said it was a “vote of confidence”.

Mr Poots added: “We will make Northern Ireland a better place for future generations.”