By Rebecca Black, PA
The Alliance Party has gained a seat in South Belfast as Green Party leader, Clare Bailey, lost out.
Sinn Féin’s Deirdre Hargey topped the poll in the constituency on Friday and was elected on the first count.
The late Christopher Stalford, who represented the constituency for the DUP before his sudden death earlier this year, was remembered during acceptance speeches.
Ms Hargey recalled him at previous counts checking the counting of the votes, and extended her best wishes to his family.
Edwin Poots, who successfully reclaimed a seat in South Belfast for the DUP, tearfully dedicated his win to Mr Stalford.
“This is for Chris,” Mr Poots said.
“We’ll take this forward and build this association, and build the legacy Christopher left us.”
Mr Poots previously represented the Lagan Valley constituency, but initially attempted to move to run in South Down before being asked by Mr Stalford’s family to run in South Belfast following his sudden death early this year.
The SDLP’s Matthew O’Toole was the third MLA returned in South Belfast before the race narrowed to the two Alliance candidates, Paula Bradshaw and Kate Nicholl, Ulster Unionist candidate, Stephen McCarthy, and Ms Bailey.
Mr O’Toole also paid tribute to Mr Stalford.
He said it had been a “very difficult” election for his party, but said “there will be another day, another hour for social democratic and labour politics in this place”.
He also congratulated Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party, while expressing regret that Ms Bailey had not been returned, paying tribute to her work over the last six years, particularly her work on a climate change bill.
— Rebecca Black (@RBlackPA) May 7, 2022
Ms Bradshaw was elected on the seventh stage of the count, and her party colleague, Ms Nicholl, joined her on the eighth stage.
Ms Nicholl, who is expecting a child, joked she was worried that she was going to go into labour, as she was declared elected.
She said she recognised others were disappointed following the count, particularly the Green Party, and pledged to work for them, too.
“We’re not to let them down,” she said.
Ms Nicholl, who is the current Belfast Lord Mayor, is also the first Stormont MLA to have been born in Zimbabwe.
“Our city is changing, diversity, and I really want to represent everyone in our city, to know they are valued, they are important, and they matter.”