Belfast Telegraph

NI election: South Down - Mourne Country witnesses a shift in nationalist landscape

It was Sinn Fein's Sinead Ennis who rocked the vote in South Down - topping the poll alongside party colleague Chris Hazzard and knocking the SDLP off the top spot for the first time in a decade.

The 33-year-old landed 10,256 first preference votes in Caitriona Ruane's former seat, coming in ahead of former Infrastructure Minister Mr Hazzard.

She said that while topping the poll was never on the agenda, she was delighted with her party's hard-fought campaign.

Sinn Fein enjoyed a surge of more than 6,000 votes from last year, with 19,083 between the two candidates this time round.

The party's one-two garnered the largest cheer at the Lagan Valley Leisureplex in Lisburn yesterday.

Victory for the SDLP's Sinead Bradley's in the third seat was a bittersweet one, as she was elected on the same day that her father, former Assembly Member PJ Bradley, was buried.

Party colleague Colin McGrath squeezed in to also take a seat.

Meanwhile, Ms Ennis, who is expecting her second child, said she had never dreamed of coming first.

"Our focus was to maximise the Sinn Fein vote in South Down," she said.

"It was a real issues-based election and I am very proud of the campaign we waged, and we got the feeling on the doors it was going to be positive.

"How it has turned out is beyond everybody's expectations, and we are all delighted, and I am personally delighted."

She has been a party member since the age of 16 and a councillor since 2014.

DUP stalwart Jim Wells was returned comfortably at the fifth stage.

The 59-year-old was joined by wife Grace.

Mr Wells, as exuberant as ever, was contesting his 17th election.

He said he was confident his party would again secure the largest number of Assembly seats.

Another winner on the night, though he did not gain a seat, was Patrick Brown, more than doubling his vote from 2,200 in May to 4,535. He said it had been a "fantastic increase for Alliance across Northern Ireland".

However, one of those to lose a seat in the strongly nationalist constituency was Ulster Unionist Harold McKee.

"I'm disappointed to have lost out at such an early stage in my last mandate," he said.

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