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Ex-SDLP leader defeats Sinn Fein

Published 08/05/2015

Margaret Ritchie was returned for a second term
Margaret Ritchie was returned for a second term

The former leader of the SDLP has held on to her seat in South Down.

Margaret Ritchie clinched 18,077 votes - 5,891 more than her closest rival, Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard - allowing her to hold on to her seat for a second term.

Her majority slipped by more 2,000 compared to the 2010 Westminster election when she polled 20,648 votes.

But she remained defiant about the performance of her party across the province in her victory speech at the count centre in Lisburn.

"Let us be very clear that the SDLP vote increased and we have a solid majority in South Down," she said.

"I'm absolutely delighted to be returned for a second term as MP for South Down.

"When I was elected five years ago, I gave two promises, two pledges, to the people of this wonderful constituency.

"First of all, that I would go and take my seat and secondly that I would represent people the length and breadth of this constituency."

Speculation that Sinn Fein would steal some of Ms Ritchie's votes proved unfounded as the results showed the party received an almost identical number of votes this time.

Mr Hazzard managed to poll 12,236 votes, just 50 more than his predecessor, Caitriona Ruane, in 2010.

He said the figures showed there are "big numbers again believing in South Down".

The unionists held on to their seats once again, with the UUP the biggest winners of the unionist vote.

The DUP's Jim Wells lost fewer than 200 votes from the last Westminster election despite a furore over alleged comments linking couples from same-sex marriages and abuse during a hustings event.

He was subsequently forced to stand down from his post as health minister after a lesbian couple made a complaint to police over comments they said he made to them while canvassing in Rathfrisland just days later.

Reacting to the results, Mr Wells said he believed the incidents were overplayed by the media in the run-up to the election but said he did not think it had harmed him or the party at the polling station.

"It was overblown by the media, not by the ordinary people on the ground," he said.

But Mr Wells said he believed a decision he took as the health minister might have lost some votes.

"The decision I made about stroke services at Craigavon Area Hospital may have played a part," he said.

"However, it was a decision that had to be taken and it was the right decision."

Mr Wells said he was pleased by the overall performance of the unionist parties and said he believes it provides a positive outlook for the Assembly elections next year.

The total results for South Down were Felicity Buchan (Conservatives) 318, Chris Hazzard (Sinn Fein) 12,186, Harold McKee (UUP) 3,964, Henry Reilly (UKIP) 3,044, Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) 18,077, Martyn Todd (Alliance) 1,622, Jim Wells (DUP) 3,486.

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