Two candidates – one DUP and one Sinn Fein – made it on the first count in the solidly nationalist Newry and Armagh. But the ground under former ministers Danny Kennedy and Conor Murphy seemed rather shaky.
On a quota of 9,154, the DUP’s William Irwin topped the poll, on 9760 first preferences, with Cathan Boylan (SF) on 9197.
Irwin, who also topped the poll last time, was “delighted, yet disappointed” as he left UUP’s Danny Kennedy 2,500 in his wake – he hammered UUP leader Mike Nesbitt for muddying the water for “the unionist family”.
“Danny and I have always worked hand-in-glove in this difficult constituency,” he said. “Mike Nesbitt’s naivety in asking Ulster Unionists to transfer to SDLP just doesn’t wear. And the fake letter – reportedly signed by Danny (wherever it came from) – was disgraceful to say the least.”
Irwin went on to praise and thank the people in Newry and Armagh “for this wonderful vote of confidence”, adding, “In all my literature I asked them to transfer my surplus (606) to Danny and 90 per cent did that. Danny was stymied by the leader of his own party.”
Boylan, meantime, was more reflective. He said, “Naturally, I am delighted to make it first time. But team Sinn Fein wants all three candidates past the post before we celebrate in Newry and Armagh. Conor Murphy (8454 first preferences) and Megan Fearon (8881) are close, but strange things can happen in the PR system.”
The SDLP’s Justin McNulty was breathing down their necks on 8,983, just 171 short of the quota. And with Boylan just 43 over the quota, the seat was anybody’s.
Kennedy, though, was floundering at 1,898 short of the line, and it was difficult to ascertain where he would collect transfers.
Alliance was the only other party in four figures with Jackie Coade colleting 1418. Kennedy could benefit from transfers there, but the count will go to the wire.
Sensationally, Conor Murphy could be the fall guy, along with Kennedy, which could mean the demise of two former Stormont ministers. The reduction of MLAs from six to five is being profoundly felt in the border constituency, although Boylan was “optimistic”
Definitely heading for the exit door are Emmet Crossan (Citizens Independent) and Rowan Tunncliffe (Green Party).