WHAT’S THE STORY?
The Newry and Armagh constituency is overwhelmingly nationalist, with a rapidly declining unionist vote.
In recent years all eyes have been on the surge of Sinn Fein, with Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy topping the polls since 2005.
The party’s share of the votes has soared from 21% to 41% over the course of the past three Westminster elections.
The question is whether Murphy can hold on to his lead. It is hard to believe the area was once a unionist seat, held by the UUP’s Jim Nicholson. Seamus Mallon took the seat for the SDLP in 1986 and held on to it for the next 19 years. After a scare in 2001, Sinn Fein won three seats in the 2003 election to the SDLP’s one.
The Westminster seat was comfortably won by Murphy on Mallon’s retirement in 2005.
Today, Newry and Armagh is unique in Northern Ireland for being the only constituency with no female candidates.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
There is little doubt that Murphy will continue to dominate. The MP has the advantage of his high profile role as Regional Development Minister — but he is not without controversy. In 2005 he caused outrage at the Conservative Party conference by saying he did not regret the Brighton hotel bombing, which killed five people and injured 31.
He also endured months of negative publicity during last winter’s water crisis. The party’s two other MLAs, Cathal Boylan and Mickey Brady, are expected to be safely re-elected.
Incumbent SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley can expect a safe victory in several areas. The party’s other hopeful, Armagh city councillor Thomas O’Hanlon, is a strong candidate with widespread support.
On the unionist side, this is one constituency where the UUP is
expected to open up a clear lead over the DUP. Its candidate, Employment and Learning Minister Danny Kennedy, is an outspoken local campaigner.
DUP candidate William Irwin is a solid politician who won 12.9% of the vote in 2007. Among the new faces are Barrie Halliday for the TUV, Alliance candidate David Murphy and independent James Malone. Newry and Armagh is one of only six seats to be contested by UKip, which is standing Robert Woods.
Murphy seems a safe bet to top the polls, with both Boylan and Brady expected to hold on to their Assembly seats for Sinn Fein.
Despite a relatively poor showing in 2007 the SDLP is one to watch in Newry and Armagh, especially with the popular input of O’Hanlon. Elsewhere, unionist Kennedy is expected to put up a fight. The TUV’s Halliday has been making himself heard in recent months, adding his voice to calls for a crackdown on security problems in south Armagh. The unaffiliated Malone may also be in with a chance.
OUTGOING MEMBERS OF THE ASSEMBLY
Newry and Armagh is the only constituency in which all six MLAs are running again.
Conor Murphy (SF) 7,437 (15.0%)
Cathal Boylan (SF) 7,105 (14.3%)
Danny Kennedy (UCUNF) 6,517 (13.1%)
William Irwin (DUP) 6,418 (12.9%)
Mickey Brady (SF) 6,337 (12.8%)
Dominic Bradley (SDLP) 5,318 (10%)
2010 SHARE OF THE VOTE COMPARED TO 2007
Sinn Fein 42% (42.1%)
SDLP 23.4% (19.8%)
UCUNF 19.1% (13.1%)
DUP 12.8% (12.9%)
Independent and other 1.5% (11.5%)
Alliance 1.2% (0.6%)