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Upper Bann

By Allan Preston

It could be a photo finish in Upper Bann this year between Sinn Fein, the UUP and SDLP for the fifth and final seat.

Last year the DUP, UUP and Sinn Fein all returned two seats, with the SDLP losing its only seat.

It had been held by Dolores Kelly since 2003 — and the party veteran will attempt a rare Assembly comeback in March.

Upper Bann takes in the mainly Unionist towns of Banbridge and Portadown with the more evenly split makeup of Lurgan.

Carla Lockhart of the DUP polled the highest last year, elected in the first count with nearly 8,000 first preference votes after building a profile as a councillor over five years.

She recently admitted she had made an “administrative error” with her election expenses in 2016, after it emerged £11,000 of funding had been unaccounted for.

She later said her campaign was entirely self-funded and had borrowed most of the money from her credit union.

Sydney Anderson of the DUP also polled strongly last year, finishing a close second. This year he has retired to be replaced by well-known Portadown councillor Jonathan Buckley.

Jo-Anne Dobson and Doug Beattie of the UUP took the third and fourth seats, although the unexpectedly high vote count for Ms Lockhart dented their support.

Sinn Fein’s Catherine Seeley and John O’Dowd finished fifth and sixth. Despite holding ministerial office John O’Dowd took the final seat by a margin of less than 200 votes ahead of Ms Kelly — prompting some commentators to say Sinn Fein would need to manage their votes more carefully this time around.

This year Mr O’Dowd has a new running mate in party staffer Nuala Toman.

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