Northern Ireland news

South Down: Alliance's gain is SDLP's loss

Patrick Brown of the Alliance Party. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE South Down count began with emphatic wins for Sinn Féin, continued with the election of Alliance's first MLA in the constituency and a decent victory for the DUP, and ended with only one seat for the SDLP.

As a bright May morning in Belfast turned the Titanic Exhibition centre into a sauna, the Alliance, DUP and SDLP were all sweating it out as the final ballots were counted.

After Friday's excitement of two MLAs - Sinn Fein's Sinéad Ennis and Cathy Mason - winning their seats by a clear margin, Saturday's felt uncomfortably slow.

Alliance's Patrick Brown was finally returned - taking a section of the vote which may once have gone to the SDLP - followed by the DUP's Diane Forsythe.

Although the SDLP's Colin McGrath clinched the final seat, the result meant the party which once dominated the constituency lost its second South Down MLA.

The discussion about what went wrong will be a brutal one for the party.

The 8.6 per cent drop in the SDLP's first preference vote was the largest by far of any party in the constituency.

Mr Brown said his party got "around a third" of transfers from Sinn Féin voters. He blamed a "lack of delivery" from the SDLP for the drop in its vote.

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"They've largely taken their vote for granted following the halcyon days of Eddie McGrady and Margaret Ritchie, who were fantastic MPs. But that is not happening any more - that level of local delivery."

Mr Brown said he felt his commitment to canvassing had won him votes.

"I believe in meaningful engagement - speaking to people, asking them what their important issues are, trying to talk them round," he said.

"I had people who completely disagreed with me on a range of issues - the hunting bill, abortion, I am openly pro-choice, but they said they would vote for me because I gave them an honest answer."

Ms Forsythe endured a difficult campaign - facing resignations from party members angry at her selection, then, just a few days before the election, having to report a false video circulating on social media to police.

She admitted it had been a "challenging campaign" and thanked well-wishers for their support.

"Endurance builds character," she said.

"As unionists in an area where we are a minority and fight for everything that we need to fight for, it is critical that we stay united. I am delighted to have unified that vote."

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