Chris Hazzard’s hat-trick in South Down is his easiest win yet

SDLP challenge fizzles out as SF man takes seat for third election running

Thumbs up from Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard and his team after he retained the South Down seat with 19,698 votes (Philip Magowan/Phil Magowan / Press Eye)

With just 1,600 votes having separated Sinn Féin and the SDLP at the last general election, South Down was one of those seats tentatively targeted by Colum Eastwood as a possible gain.

But incumbent Chris Hazzard didn’t merely dampen his rivals’ optimism, but completely obliterated their ambitions by swelling his winning margin to more than 9,000 votes to leave Colin McGrath languishing in his slipstream.

In what was the last of the four seats declared at the Craigavon Lakes count centre, Mr Hazzard polled 19,698 votes.

That was more than the combined total of his two key rivals Colin McGrath and the DUP’s Diane Forsythe, both of whom had talked up their chances.

It represented a whopping 43.54% of the total poll compared to just 32.4% in 2019 as the SDLP’s share dipped from29.2% to 23.03%.

Both had high hopes of running Sinn Féin closer, but it was not to be in South Down for Colin McGrath (SDLP) and Diane Forsythe (DUP). Picture: Oliver McVeigh/PA Wire (Oliver McVeigh/Oliver McVeigh/PA Wire)

Mr Hazzard first gained the constituency in 2017 when he was his party’s first MP in the area, unseating Margaret Ritchie during the SDLP’s parliamentary wipe-out at that year’s snap general election.

“This was a smashing endorsement for strong leadership and record of delivery, positive change, and a different vision for the future,” Mr Hazzard said in a victory speech he’s now made at three successive Westminster battles.

This was his easily his most straightforward romp to victory, and Mr Hazzard added: “This shows that elections are fought on the ground, not on Twitter.”

Diane Forsythe (DUP) polled well and consolidated third place in the nine-strong field, where the smaller parties struggled for numbers.

But she did grow her party’s split of the vote from 15.3% in 2019 to 16.24% this time around.

Jim Wells, standing on a TUV ticket, had his return to politics scuppered when he polled fewer than 2,000 votes. Picture: Philip Magowan / Press Eye (Philip Magowan/Phil Magowan / Press Eye)

This election also spelt the absolute end in politics for veteran Jim Wells (67), who was running on a TUV ticket.

The former DUP Stormont health minister would have been happy to have outpolled the UUP runner Michael O’Loan.

But he wasn’t in the count centre for the declaration, having left early to catch a boat from Ballycastle at 7am to head on a bird-watching expedition with friends to Mull Island to view a colony of sea eagles.

In line with the collapse of her party in Britain, the Conservative candidate Hannah Westropp polled a paltry 46 votes - the lowest in any of the 18 constituencies in the north.