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McKevitt switches election fight to Newry & Armagh

 South Down MLA Karen McKevitt will contest the next assembly election in Newry and Armagh

An SDLP assembly member who was not expected to seek re-election now plans to stand in a different constituency.

In a surprise move, South Down MLA Karen McKevitt has been selected to run in Newry and Armagh alongside All-Ireland winner and Westminster candidate Justin McNulty.

In October, Ms McKevitt said she would not be seeking the party's nomination to contest the South Down seat in next year's Stormont election.

The 44-year-old said at the time that her decision had come "after much soul-searching" and that she was "exploring a number of options which may take me away from the world of politics".

Ms McKevitt's decision to step aside in South Down paved the way for two new SDLP candidates to stand in the constituency. Downpatrick councillor Colin McGrath and Sinéad Challinor-Bradley, daughter of former MLA PJ Bradley, will contest the seat alongside sitting assembly member Séan Rogers.

A statement from the party described Ms McKevitt as a "natural choice" to replace outgoing Newry and Mourne MLA Dominic Bradley.

"Originally from Newry, she is very well connected to the area and has years of experience as a hard-working and popular MLA," the statement said.

But not only will the sitting South Down MLA's selection for a different constituency raise eyebrows, it seems potential candidates from the north end of the constituency have been overlooked in favour of two from the Newry area.

Mrs McKevitt was elected to the assembly in 2011, when the party took two seats in South Down. The party currently has one MLA in Newry and Armagh.

Meanwhile, the SDLP has confirmed that West Tyrone MLA Joe Byrne will stand down before Christmas. The party will hold a selection convention in the coming weeks to choose a successor to Mr Byrne, who is retiring on health grounds.

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