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European elections: ‘No regrets’ for Michelle Gildernew



European elections: ‘No regrets’ for Michelle Gildernew

By Kevin SharkeyBBC News NI, reporting from Castlebar • Gareth GordonBBC News NI political correspondent

Getty Michelle Gildernew Getty

Michelle Gildernew contested the European election in the Midlands-North-West constituency

The former MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Michelle Gildernew, has said she has “no regrets” about running in the European election in the Republic.

The Sinn Féin representative contested the Midlands-North-West constituency but lost out on the final seat to Ciarán Mullooly, a former high-profile news reporter with Irish broadcaster RTÉ.

Speaking to BBC News NI, Ms Gildernew also justified her decision not to defend her Westminster seat in the upcoming general election.

“Everything happens for a reason and I think it was the right time for me to step aside in Fermanagh South Tyrone,” she said.

She did not attend the declaration of the final result, which took place in Castlebar, County Mayo, just after 03:00 local time on Friday.

Ms Gildernew missed out by almost 5,500 votes, as her party lost the seat it had held since 2014.

Family priorities

She said Sinn Fein “knew it was a risk running two candidates” in the Midlands-North-West constituency.

Her running mate, outgoing MEP Chris MacManus, lost his seat.

Asked about her future in politics, Ms Gildernew said: “I have no idea.”

Speaking to BBC News NI in Castlebar on Friday, she said her immediate priority is to return home following a family tragedy two weeks ago.

Her nephew, Fiachra Ó’Faoláin, died after getting into difficulties in a lake near Aughnacloy earlier this month.

Ms Gildernew said her sister needs her now and she needs “to go home to grieve”.

She said Fiachra was an “impulsive, creative, generous, funny guy” and “a beautiful young man”.

‘An extraordinary three weeks’

Mr Mullooly, who won the final seat in the Midlands-North-West constituency, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme that he was “delighted” for his team, who he said took on “the power and might” of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin “without a lot of money”.

“We’re thrilled,” he said. “It’s an incredible end to what has been an extraordinary three weeks in my life.”

PA Images Ciaran Mullooly celebrates after being elected as an MEPPA Images

Ciarán Mullooly celebrates after being elected as an MEP

Ireland has three EU constituencies which send 14 MEPs to Brussels: Dublin, Ireland South and Midlands-North-West.

With the final results now in, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have each won four seats, while Sinn Féin and independents have taken two each.

Labour and Independent Ireland have won one seat each.

‘Sole focus’

Last month, after the UK general election was called while she was a candidate in the European elections, Ms Gildernew announced that she would not defend her seat in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

She said her “sole focus” was on the European campaign in the Republic.

Her failure to be elected as an MEP means she now holds no major elected position, after serving as an MLA or MP for about a quarter of a century.

The five seats in the Midlands-North West constituency were won by Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, Independent, and Maria Walsh, Fine Gael; newcomers Nina Carberry, a well-known Irish jockey and Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen, a brother of the former taoiseach Brian Cowen, and Independent Ireland’s Ciarán Mullooly.

Nina Carberry celebrates her victory with Irish EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness

Nina Carberry celebrates her victory with Irish EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness

The Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Simon Harris and the Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) Micheál Martin both travelled to County Mayo for the final stages of the count.

Mr Harris said he was ecstatic at his party’s success, while Mr Martin played down suggestions that Fianna Fáil’s three-candidate strategy had hampered its chances of taking a second seat in the constituency.

Ms Gildernew has been the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone since 2017. She also held the seat between 2001 to 2015.

She was the first female candidate elected from her party to the House of Commons in more than 80 years since Countess Markievicz in 1918.

She was also the agriculture and rural development minister in the Northern Ireland Executive from 2007 to 2011.

Ms Gildernew has held senior roles within Sinn Féin, both as health spokesperson and as a member of the party’s national executive.

The party’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill said “there will absolutely have to be a role for Michelle going forward”.

Speaking at a launch of candidates for the Westminster general election the Stormont First Minister told journalists Ms Gildernew “has been a stalwart in the constituency for so long and she will be back in whatever role in whatever form that will take.”

The party President Mary Lou McDonald described her as “a formidable woman with an incredible record.”

She added: “be in no doubt Michelle will feature very strongly within the Sinn Fein team in the future.”

Final three seats

Independent Michael McNamara, Sinn Féin’s Kathleen Funchion and Fianna Fáil’s Cynthia Ní Mhurchú took the final three seats in the Ireland South constituency.

Independents4Change MEP Mick Wallace lost his seat as he was the sixth and lowest-placed candidate after the 20th count in the five-seat constituency.

They will join Fine Gael’s Seán Kelly and Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher as MEPs for Ireland South.

Counting for the election lasted five days in the Republic.

Across the other EU member states, most MEPs were elected on Sunday and Monday.

The delays in the Republic were largely blamed on the complex system of proportional representation by single transferable vote. Malta is the only other country that uses this system to elect MEPs.

It takes more time compared to having a list system, which is how most other member states run their European elections.

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