Upper Bann: Return to 'office' for Kelly as no-show Dobson bows out
DOLORES Kelly’s first job as MLA this morning will be to contact an estate agency and make arrangements to let new offices.
“That shouldn’t be too hard, because unfortunately there’s plenty of vacant properties in Lurgan, which underlines the work needing to be done to improve our ailing economy,” the SDLP veteran insisted.
Kelly’s renaissance as a front-line politician again, after her seemingly ignominious departure from the stage last May, was as unlikely as it was popular among her supporters in Upper Bann.
“Voters took it for granted last year that I was a safe bet so didn’t both turning up at the polling booths,” she admitted.
“But that core support for the party – for me and those before me like Brid Rodgers – has always been there, and this time we had to galvanise it, which we did,” said Kelly.
Ironically Sinn Féin’s percentage share of the vote went up six times that of the SDLP (2.9 per cent versus 0.5 per cent).
But whereas Sinn Féin were never going to pick up much via transfers, Kelly could depend on mopping up the Alliance surplus, and with their candidate Tara Doyle nearly doubling the party’s vote from last year’s runner Harry Hamilton, an SDLP seat looked a banker from early on in the count process in Banbridge.
Kelly’s epic comeback came at the expense of Sinn Féin’s second runner Nuala Toman. That left former education minister John O’Dowd as their party’s lone flag carrier, and he had a less stressful wait to be elected than last time, polling 8,220 first preferences, just 372 shy of the quota.
That sub-plot within nationalism, however, couldn’t eclipse the loss elsewhere in Upper Bann of the seemingly safe UUP seat held by Jo-Anne Dobson.
That left the DUP to maintain the status quo of two seats, with Carla Lockart topping the poll yet again (9,140 votes) and later being joined by 25-year-old political newcomer Jonathan Buckley, who was put forward by the party to replace incumbent Sydney Anderson.
Buckley promised “fresh-faced fresh thinking” while Lockhart insisted that while people had been “angry” about the election, they “clearly have no desire to place this country’s future into nationalist hands.”