Assembly Election

Newry and Armagh: Sinn Fein trio in huge vote boost as Kennedy exits the political stage

WINNERS AND LOSERS: Above, the DUP’S William Irwin celebrates topping the poll in Newry and Armagh. Left, Sinn Féin’s Cathal Boylan was elected on the first count. Far left, Danny Kennedy’s 32-year career in politics has ended PictureS: Matt Bohill

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Election hub: Full Newry and Armagh results

WHILE the political downfall of veteran unionist and two-times former minister Danny Kennedy dominated the headlines in Newry and Armagh, there was a much bigger nationalist story emerging.

There had been rumblings ahead of the poll that Sinn Féin might struggle to retain their historic three-seat complement under the new reduced Stormont arrangements.

But a whopping 7.4 per cent lift on their May 2016 first preference vote share – among the biggest for the party in any constituency – and clinical management of the 1-2-3s ensured they were just a handful shy of three quotas after the first count in Banbridge.

“Many in the media said it couldn’t be done but how wrong they were, because we’re back stronger than ever,” said Cathal Boylan, elected on the first count alongside DUP poll-topper William Irwin.

“We added more than 7,000 first preference votes, which is a strong mandate for renegotiation, and we’ll not let those constituents down,” he added.

Boylan was joined at the second stage by Megan Fearon – who won’t be 26 until July – and later by Conor Murphy (he was just 136 votes short of the quota), and the trio were united in expressing their hope that a return to direct rule can be avoided.

Former All-Ireland football star Justin McNulty, who earned his ticket to Stormont last May, was also safely returned despite the SDLP’s share of the vote falling by nearly 2 per cent.

The DUP consolidated its vote via the affable Irwin, who managed to lift the party’s vote by more than one per cent, though he admitted his victory was “tinged with sadness” in that the wider unionist family claimed exactly 31 per cent of the overall vote, yet he was their sole flag carrier.

That was because of the ballot box failure of the UUP’s Danny Kennedy, one of a raft of household political names who fell by the wayside in this most brutal of elections.

Kennedy had been the first to distance himself from former leader Mike Nesbitt’s now infamous ‘transfer to nationalists’ statement.

A veteran of 32 years in public life, nearly 20 of them as an MLA, Kennedy’s campaign was also hampered by a personal smear campaign against him which included the circulation of a bogus letter which is now the subject of a police investigation.

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