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Assembly election: South Down will be a hard fought battle

The Mourne Mountains, which are set in the heart of the South Down constituency. Photo by Mal McCann.
Marie Louise McConville

It may be one of Northern Ireland’s most picturesque constituencies but South Down, in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains, but it will be a hard fought election battle.

Last year four of the then six assembly seats unsurprisingly went to nationalists, with the remaining two split between the DUP and UUP.

However, with only five seats available this time around, the Ulster Unionists could find themselves the losers.

South Down is a predominantly Catholic constituency which takes in a large part of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, as well as part of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District Council.

Last May, 53 per cent of the constituency’s electorate turned out to vote.

The majority of first preference votes were overwhelmingly won by the SDLP and Sinn Féin, although it was the DUP’s Jim Wells who was first to be elected.

His election last time came despite a backdrop of controversy and with a large and loyal following in South Down, he should be returned with ease once again next month.

Sinn Féin are also likely to retain their two seats, although former education minister Caitriona Ruane will not fill one of them.

After 14 years serving the constituency, Ms Ruane revealed she would not be running this time around.

Infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard is on course to be returned along with running mate Sinead Ennis.

Although a relative newcomer to politics, a strong performance as a Newry, Mourne and Down councillor may set her up for an assembly seat.

The SDLP will also retain at least one seat, with Sinead Bradley – daughter of former MLA PJ Bradley - the most likely after topping the first count last time out.

The fifth seat is then likely to be a battle between the UUP and the SDLP.

While Ulster Unionist Harold McKee may be hoping to pick up some extra votes courtesy of the DUP following the “cash-for-ash” scandal, it is unlikely that there will be enough votes to elect two unionists and the SDLP’s Colin McGrath is in line to squeeze through.

Also running in South Down is former Alliance councillor Patrick Clarke, who is standing as an Independent candidate despite being disqualified from holding office as a councillor following fraud and sexual assault convictions.

Also running are Patrick Brown (Alliance), Hannah George (Green), Gary Hynds (Con), and Lyle Rea (TUV).

Likely doorstep issues could include the future of services at the Downe Hospital, traffic, road infrastructure, employment and tourism.

Candidates:

Sinead Bradley (SDLP)

Patrick Brown (All)

Patrick Clarke (Ind)

Sinead Ennis (SF)

Hannah George (Green)

Chris Hazzard (SF)

Gary Hynds (Con)

Colin McGrath (SDLP)

Harold McKee (UUP)

Lyle Rea (TUV)

Jim Wells (DUP)

2016 share of first preference vote

SDLP 31.4%

Sinn Féin 31.1%

DUP 12.3%

UUP 8.5%

TUV 6.6%

Alliance 5.4%

Independent 2.8%

Green 2%

Seats won by party in 2016

Sinn Féin 2 seats

SDLP 2 seats

DUP 1 seat

UUP 1 seat

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