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Newry and Armagh: Sinn Féin facing battle to win three seats

The successful Sinn Féin trio of Conor Murphy, Megan Fearon and Cathal Boylan in 2016

FOR at least one of the six members for Newry and Armagh, their Stormont experience is going to come to a premature end.

All six want back, and six into five does not go.

It would not exactly be that short-lived an adventure for four members who have been about for a decade or more.

But someone is going to be disappointed, and it could well be Sinn Féin's third seat that is most vulnerable.

Sinn Féin has been dominant in this constituency since 2003 when it first made a gain from the SDLP to seize three seats. It has gone on to win three in every poll since, making it one of their most stable in terms of voter loyalty.

The reduction from six to five makes it a greater challenge this time, however.

This border constituency takes in the Armagh part of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District Council and the western part of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

The prospect of Brexit featured as a question on the doorsteps last time. Now a reality rather than a prospect, the return of a strengthened border is even more of a concern as it will likely have an impact on cross-border trade and business.

The removal of the border and farming subsidies from Europe benefited this area financially. In some rural areas, family farms straddle the border.

The parties may win or lose a handful of votes based on their stance on these issues. Policies aside, republican/nationalist parties typically win four seats to unionism's two.

The DUP's William Irwin and UUP's Danny Kennedy should be re-elected, which leaves three seats to split between Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

The SDLP fielded 18 per cent of the vote last time, but between two candidates. The same percentage turning out for one candidate would have seen them elected at the first count, which is perhaps why the party is only putting forward Justin McNulty, an All-Ireland winner.

That will heap pressure onto Sinn Féin.

Former minister Conor Murphy has contested successfully every assembly election since 1998 and is one of the party's `big names' so it will want to ensure he gets over the line.

When Mr Murphy stood down from the assembly as part of Sinn Féin's policy of abolishing double jobbing, the party chose Megan Fearon as his replacement. Ms Fearon, who went on to become a junior minister, received more first preference votes in 2016 than Mr Murphy, who had since left Westminster, and Cathal Boylan.

It is unlikely Sinn Féin will want to concede any of their three, but to get them all back at the SDLP's expense is likely going to require near perfect vote management.

::

2016 share of first preference vote

Sinn Féin 40.9%

SDLP 18.2%

DUP 16.7%

UUP 14.1%

Other 4.9%

Other unionist 4.2%

Alliance 1.0%

****

CANDIDATES:

Cathal Boylan, Sinn Féin

Jackie Coade, Alliance

Emmet Crossan, Citizens Independent Social Thought Alliance

Megan Fearon, Sinn Féin

William Irwin, DUP

Danny Kennedy, UUP

Justin McNulty, SDLP

Conor Murphy, Sinn Féin

Rowan Tunnicliffe, Green Party

***

Seats won in 2016

Sinn Féin 3

SDLP 1

UUP 1

DUP 1

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