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General election - Upper Bann: 'We need social issues sorted as we have virtually no say in Westminster'

Upper Bann

By Victor Gordon

Portadown - in the heart of the Upper Bann constituency - seemed confused yesterday, with a heady mixture of Brexit prospects, talk of a border poll and the perennial spectre of a split unionist vote.

Voting seemed busier than ever - 20% by early afternoon when the heavens opened - in a constituency that has never returned a non-unionist since it came into being in 1983.

On first interviews, outgoing MP David Simpson (DUP) seemed to have got his campaigning right. He had concentrated on the split vote issue, in his 'Orange' battle with UUP MLA and ex-soldier Doug Beattie, warning that it could open the door for Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd.

As the plot thickened on the streets, one local remarked: "This election is a total waste of time, with nothing in it for this province, only an open border skirmish".

There wasn't much reference to Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn in a town - much like the rest of Northern Ireland - suffering from election fatigue.

Ronnie and Elsie Gracey felt it was a pity that Simpson and Beattie had to scrap it out, in the absence of a unionist deal. "They're both good candidates," said Ronnie as they left the polling station at Edenderry School, in a unionist area.

He added: "Upper Bann, going by the last Assembly election, is moving ever-closer to the split-vote category, and the people want somebody who actually takes the seat at Westminster. This is really a three-way fight - Simpson, Beattie and O'Dowd."

Sales assistant Linzi Ewart was voting for the first time, even though she's 26.

She said: "It's getting too close for comfort and I regret I didn't vote before. I voted for David Simpson this time, and I think he - as the sitting MP - is the only unionist who can win and protect the Union."

In the nationalist Ballyoran area, Mary and Gerald Lavery - both opposed to Brexit - felt the election was "a total waste of time". "It isn't relevant to the problems of Northern Ireland," said Gerald. "There's far too confused a picture here -what with Assembly elections, talk of a Border poll and now this Westminster-Brexit pressure.

"We need social issues like education and health sorted out, as we have virtually no say in Westminster. Just make the Assembly work and let a border poll sit."

There was little talk at Ballyoran of a nationalist split vote, with the SDLP's Declan McAlinden likely to finish far behind John O'Dowd. And rank outsider Tara Doyle (Alliance) didn't warrant a mention in rather hard-line Upper Bann, even though she increased the vote last time.

This apparent lack of focus on social issues was echoed by Mark Matchett, who would not reveal his voting habits.

"I'm voting for the party which serves the public and not its own interests," he insisted. At the Hart Memorial Primary School, John and Mary Gibson wanted the Assembly to get back on course, and "let Brexit and open borders work themselves out."

At nearby Millington Primary, Paul McBroom and partner Christine McFadden were passionately in agreement.

"It doesn't really matter how we voted today," said Christine, a care worker.

"My mother has early dementia and the lack of health policies isn't helping people like her. I work in the care home sector which is starved of funds, and I'll be caring for mum at home.

"Politicians at every level must work towards things like good health and education, whatever happens with Brexit."

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