Assembly Election

SDLP newcomer follows in father's footsteps while Jim Wells also elected in South Down

SDLP newcomer Sinead Bradley, right, with Colin McGrath and Margaret Ritchie. Picture by Mal McCann

SDLP newcomer Sinead Bradley followed in her father's footsteps as she was elected to represent South Down on Friday night.

Veteran politician PJ Bradley beamed with delight as his daughter secured a seat in his old hunting ground after topping the poll.

After securing 5,059 first preference votes and being confirmed on the sixth count, she admitted she had "big footsteps to fill".

"It's a little overwhelming, but if I do a fraction well as my father, I consider it a political success."

All eyes had been on the progress of Jim Wells in this constituency, who defied doubters to be the first candidate across the line.

The DUP man had arrived at the count centre in Lisburn at around lunchtime with a broad smile, happily chatting to party supporters. But he almost didn't make it inside after forgetting to bring photographic identification.

The former Stormont health minister had been hoping to create positive headlines after being embroiled in controversy during his last election campaign.

However, despite being elected on the third count, Mr Wells had cause to vent his anger with strong criticism of the Electoral Commission who refused his disabled wife Grace access to the count centre.

"Grace has missed a good moment in our family history," he said.

"My family have stood by me over the last 14 months and I couldn't have done it without them."

He added: "Jim Wells hasn't gone away you know, I'm here to stay".

The Ulster Unionists had placed all their hopes of a seat on Harold McKee after the departure of previous incumbent John McCallister to the now defunct NI21.

In the fifth count Mr McKee secured that place at Stormont.

Hot on his heels was Sinn Féin's Chris Hazzard, who was later joined by party colleague Caitriona Ruane.

Colin McGrath was the last candidate over the line for the SDLP. But his popularity, along with that of Ms Bradley, saw Sean Rogers squeezed out.

It was also a day of sadness for Mr McCallister, who said good-bye to his career as an MLA.

He had been under pressure as an independent and his fears were realised as soon as the first count was announced, polling just 1,156 votes.

"I knew the day and hour that I walked away (from the UUP) ...I knew the challenges I faced, but I don't regret them," he said.

"I've had nine years in the assembly, which I enjoyed and I wish my successor well."

Elected: Sinead Bradley (SDLP), Jim Wells (DUP), Chris Hazzard (SF), Colin McGrath (SDLP), Caitriona Ruane (SF), Harold McKee (UUP).

Assembly Election

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