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NI election: Newry and Armagh complete - Three-seat win for SF but bitter defeat for UUP as veteran Kennedy goes

By Allan Preston

In Newry and Armagh it seemed inevitable that one household name would be on the chopping block. After 32 years in political life, it was Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy who was eliminated on the third count, behind Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy who was elected.

Much was made of his public disagreement with now former party leader Mike Nesbitt, who declared he would give his second preference vote to the SDLP.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Kennedy refused to be drawn on the matter but insisted that he remains a "loyal and dedicated" member of the UUP.

With a high 69% voter turnout in the constituency, Mr Kennedy polled 7,939 votes, behind the 9,154 quota. "Political defeat, when it comes, hurts, but there are worse things in life," he said.

"I'm not going to make excuses. When you're beaten you have to recognise it can't be everybody else's fault.

"When that Sinn Fein tide came in, as I predicted, it was likely to wash one unionist seat away and it's done that."

While ruling out a future return to politics, he quipped to journalists on his way out: "I'll see you in commentators' corner."

The DUP's William Irwin became the sole unionist to retain his seat, topping the poll with 9,760 first preference votes, crossing the line at the first stage.

In his victory speech he said the day was "tinged with sadness" with the loss of Mr Kennedy.

"Unionism turned out in larger numbers than in the last election but, of course, nationalists turned out in very high numbers and it made a very high quota," he commented.

Mr Irwin said he had not feared a backlash against the DUP over the RHI scandal.

"The party was attacked on all sides - it was unnecessary," he said.

"A lot of parties played politics on this issue and the people came out and spoke today."

Overall, the day was strongest for nationalism with three Sinn Fein and one SDLP candidate elected.

Early in the afternoon, the Sinn Fein deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, made a 'blink and you'll miss it' show of support in the count hall.

Cathal Boylan made it through on the first stage for Sinn Fein with 9,197 votes.

He said he was hopeful a return to direct rule could be avoided.

"I was elected on the doorstep to campaign on equality, respect and integrity, and with that goes a strong mandate to renegotiate," he commented.

His party colleague Megan Fearon followed at the second stage, polling 9,175 votes.

The SDLP's Justin McNulty, first elected last May, declared it "a great day for nationalism" as he held his seat.

As a former All-Ireland GAA champion for Armagh, he seemed to thrive once again on the competition.

"I love contests, I love the battle and campaign. I wasn't concerned even though I knew it would be tough," he said.

Thanking his team, he also credited the DUP leader for increasing the nationalist vote.

"The Arlene factor was immense," he commented.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy managed to stay ahead of Danny Kennedy with a 1,000 point lead, crossing the line at the third stage with 9,018 votes.

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