Sinn Fein’s Mickey Brady crept through almost unnoticed at Banbridge Leisure Centre yesterday morning to take the Newry and Armagh seat with over 20,488 votes, one of the most predictable results of Northern Ireland’s 18 seats.
The constituency was one of the four unionist ‘pacts’, with UUP’s Danny Kennedy in second place, more than 4,000 adrift. But it seemed as if the two men had made a ‘peace pact’ as they summed up their campaign and result in a civilised manner.
The early morning victory – with the dawn sun peeping over the horizon – was in direct contrast to the Upper Bann slanging match three hours earlier, when David Simpson (DUP) took the neighbouring seat at the same venue in an eight-strong fight.
True, Kennedy had drawn the short straw of the quarter of agreements, as the defeat proved. Still, he polled 13.6 per cent more votes that the combined DUP-UUP total of 2010, so the Assembly’s DRD minister was gratified that he had maximised his support.
“I do regret that the voice of Newry and Armagh will continue not to be heard where it should be heard, in the House of Commons, with Sinn Fein refusing to take their seats,” he commented.
“The Ulster Unionist Party is not only in very firm business in Newry and Armagh, it is also back in business in the House of Commons, with Danny Kinahan (South Antrim) and Tom Elliott (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) both elected.”
The Newry-Armagh election, though, belonged to Brady, an MLA fighting his first Westminster election, with incumbent Conor Murphy having stepped down from The House. The victor – a well-known welfare worker – said he was “absolutely delighted to emulate the Murphy vote” (it was down just 0.9 per cent from five years ago).
He added: “It has been such an exceptional campaign, such a wonderful experience. We will carry on our policies of anti-austerity and equality and ensure all the parties unite to stand against austerity and that we in the north get the best possible deal from Westminster.”
Of his party’s abstentionist stance, he said: “People have this myth that we, as Sinn Fein members, do not go to Westminster. We don’t take our seats but we certainly do the work.”
His predecessor Murphy was known to visit Westminster (but he never entered the debating chamber) on a regular basis. And Sinn Fein have an office in the Palace of Westminster.
The SDLP’s Justin McNally, a Co Armagh GAA icon, polled well with just over 12,000 votes to make it into third place. He pushed the party’s support up slightly, bucking the trend elsewhere.
But the other two contestants fared poorly. Alliance’s Kate Nicholl managed just 841 in a constituency that never was a happy hunting ground for her party. And Robert Rigby (NI Conservative) attained the wooden spoon with a paltry 210 votes.
• Mickey Brady (Sinn Fein) 20,488 (41.1pc)
• Danny Kennedy (UUP) 16,312 (32.7pc)
• Justin McNally (SDLP) 12,026 (24.1pc)
• Kate Nicholl (Alliance) 841 (1.7pc)
• Robert Rigby (Conservative) 210 (0.4pc)