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Newry and Armagh: Cream rises to top for DUP dairy farmer Irwin, while Sinn Fein celebrates good day

By Cate McCurry

Published 07/05/2016

William Irwin, who topped the poll in Newry and Armagh, celebrates with Gareth Wilson and his campaign manager Lavelle McIlwrath
William Irwin, who topped the poll in Newry and Armagh, celebrates with Gareth Wilson and his campaign manager Lavelle McIlwrath

DUP dairy farmer William Irwin topped the poll in Newry and Armagh, effectively pushing the Ulster Unionists into second place in the battle for unionist domination.

While the constituency is usually one of the most predictable, few foresaw the DUP racing ahead with 7,980 votes.

Turnout sat at 59.32%, with 48,498 voters having their say in how the constituency will shape up.

Mr Irwin was quick to point out that he polled more than the two Ulster Unionists - Danny Kennedy and Sam Nicholson - put together.

However, it is expected that Mr Kennedy will retain his Assembly seat after polling 4,904 votes, but his running mate Mr Nicholson - son of MEP Jim Nicholson - will lose out.

Celebrations started early in the day for a relaxed Mr Irwin, who said it was a "marvellous result".

"I am delighted. We are now the biggest party in Newry and Armagh," he said.

"We have polled more than the two Ulster Unionist candidates put together.

"We have topped the poll and that was down to hard work, dedication and delivery.

"We are delighted to have topped the poll above Sinn Fein, it was a surprise to us. Normally Sinn Fein would be up there, but our vote has been extraordinary.

"I am humbled and thank the people of Newry and Armagh for their support. We'll go home and we'll celebrate and rest after the big effort we put in."

Sinn Fein's Megan Fearon, the youngest elected MLA at 24 years old, led the way for the party with 6,838 first preference votes, pushing her past the quota on the first count.

A delighted Ms Fearon was elected along with running mate Cathal Boylan, who polled 6,822.

However, party colleague Conor Murphy failed to reach the mark in the first round, but said he was confident he would make it through on transfers.

In one of her first interviews after her election, Ms Fearon described politics here as "too male, too stale and too pale".

"I've spent the last four years trying to earn my seat every day and it's such a good feeling to be endorsed," she said.

"For us, we never really think about who is going to top the poll.

"There's three of us and we are all trying to get over the line - it's not something any of us aspired to do.

"Congratulations to Willie, it is a shock."

The SDLP's Karen McKevitt is in competition with former Armagh GAA player Justin McNulty for the sole party seat.

But Mr McNulty looks set to take it after polling 4,775 first preferences, almost a hundred more than his running mate.

The first two candidates to fall by the wayside were independents Paul Berry and Martin McAllister.

The fringe Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol (CISTA) polled unexpectedly well with 1,032 first preferences. The party's candidate Emmett Fearon - who admitted he was once convicted of cultivating cannabis - said he kicked off his campaign only two weeks before the public went to the polls.

Counting continued into the small hours. However, the political landscape looks likely to remain unchanged with four nationalists and two unionists returning to Stormont.

Belfast Telegraph

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