The Newry and Armagh constituency is a mixed bag, it includes Nationalist strongholds such as Newry, as well as more Unionist areas like Tandragee, Markethill, Richhill and Loughgall. It is the second most populated constituency after Upper Bann.
In 2011, SF won three of the six seats, SDLP, UUP and DUP have one each. Conor Murphy topped the poll, but stood down when the party ended double jobbing, focussing on Westminster. Megan Fearon replaced him. Mickey Brady and Cathal Boylan were the other two originally elected, Mickey then taking the Westminster seat and Conor Murphy returning to Parliament Buildings.
The long standing SDLP representative Dominic Bradley was returned in 2011, but is not contesting this election. William Irwin took a seat for the DUP and the former DRD Minister Danny Kennedy put in a strong performance for the UUP, coming second with over 18% of first preferences.
A major controversy over the naming of a playpark in the constituency after Raymond McCreesh has galvanised Unionism in the area, and the 2015 Westminster election exposed what could be a resurgent UUP in this constituency. Danny Kennedy upped his vote by nearly 14%, though the DUP did not run a candidate here – regardless, their 2010 vote was abysmal.
The withdrawal of the UUP from the Executive might play to voters here, and coupled with the 2014 local government outcome, where the UUP are almost 100% ahead in their percentage of the vote, the DUP could come under real pressure here.
Within Nationalism, this could be one of the constituencies to watch. With Dominic Bradley having retired, South Down MLA Karen McKevitt has opted to move to this constituency, with a running mate in Justin McNulty who ran for the party in 2015, increasing the party vote by a meagre 0.3%. McKevitt is currently the SDLP Whip in the Assembly, and is a Newry native, which will work in her favour.
The second candidate for the SDLP outpolled Mickey Brady in 2011 by several hundred votes, so there is a chance to build here. McNulty is well known sportsman and held the SDLP core vote together for Westminster as a first time candidate.
Sinn Fein are running Megan Fearon, one of the youngest MLA’s in the Assembly, Cathal Boylan and Conor Murphy. Murphy is safe here, his personal vote will carry him and he has been tipped to return to the Executive table for the party after May.
This will be Fearon’s first election, though the Drumintee native has had a relatively high profile inside and outside the constituency. Cathal Boylan amassed 14.2% in 2011, and is popular in the constituency, though illness has caused him to strip back his duties in recent times, having heart surgery in 2015.
It will be difficult to call between Fearon and Boylan should the third SF seat come under pressure from the SDLP.
An interesting addition to the candidates in this election is Paul Berry, a former DUP MLA who fell foul of the party following revelations about his private life. How the DUP vote will go here will be interesting.
A full list of the candidates for this constituency is as follows:
Conor Murphy (SF)
Cathal Boylan (SF)
Megan Fearon (SF)
Justin McNulty (SDLP)
Danny Kennedy (UUP)
Karen McKevitt (SDLP)
Sam Nicholson (UUP)
Paul Berry (IND)
Emmet Crossan (CiSTA)
William Irwin (DUP)
Alan Love (UKIP)
Martin McAllister (Ind)
Michael Watters (GP)
Craig Weir (AL)
Given the difficulty of calling this one, we’ve had a look at the 2014 local government figures. In 2011, SF elected 14 members to the then-Newry and Mourne District Council. Given the re-organisation of councils in the region, the constituency now sits within both the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council.
In the Armagh ward of the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District Council, SF returned 2, SDLP returned 2, with the UUP and DUP on one each.
Overall on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, the Nationalists returned 14 seats each in 2014.
With a heaped teaspon full of salt, here’s how we call it.
SF 2 (Murphy and ?) (We can’t call it between popular Fearon, and longstanding Boylan)
SDLP 2 (IF McNulty polls well and the vote management is tight)
UUP 1 (Kennedy) (Kennedy is safe here, but it is hard to see him pulling Nicholson over the line)
DUP 1 (William Irwin) (Whilst there may well have been a shift here in the Unionist mindset, the last real figures we have are from 2011, where Irwin was very close to a quota on his own, which can’t be discounted)