Election 2015: South Down

The Mournes, South Down
The Mournes, South Down

South Down SDLP incumbent Margaret Ritchie insists she is taking nothing for granted, despite winning a majority of 8,400 in 2010.

Back then unionists secured only 19.4 per cent of the votes, the SDLP 48.5 per cent and Sinn Fein’s Catriona Ruane 28.7 per cent.

The DUP took 8.6 per cent, the UUP-Conservative alliance UCUNF took 7.3 per cent, and the TUV scored 3.5 per cent.

A key point of interest across Northern Ireland will be how DUP MLA Jim Wells performs at the polls, after his recent resignation as Health Minister in the wake of his controversial comments on homosexuality.

A solidly nationalist constituency, unionists privately accept that Ritchie’s track record is well respected among her community.

She told the News Letter: “In 2005 I promised to take my seat and represent everybody in South Down. I have done this and seek to continue doing so in the next Westminster Parliament.”

Ms Ritchie is making much of her hard work on the Westminster Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, promising to fight for the best deal on local farming subsidies and fishing quotas.

But she added “nothing was a forgone conclusion”.

Typically some 4,000 unionists vote tactically for her, in order to keep out Sinn Fein.

Recently there was widespread unionist anger over Newry SDLP councillors’ failure to back attempts to rename the McCreesh playground in Newry, named after an IRA hunger striker.

Unionists suggested the SDLP’s conduct would cost Ms Ritchie votes, but there appears to be little lasting heat in the threat.

Ms Ritchie said: “I want to see a new name and I told the [SDLP] councillors that.

“I hope they can deliver on that and have every faith that they will.”

DUP candidate Jim Wells says the key point for south Down unionists in this election is how Northern Ireland can maximise its influence in a hung parliament.

“Every vote for the DUP in south Down will strengthen our position in negotiations with the next UK government,” he said.

Chris Hazzard for Sinn Fein said he is being received “very enthusiastically”.

He added: “Generally the feedback is that South Down has been neglected for too long and people are looking for leadership.”

Concerns on the doorsteps are the loss of services at the Downe Hospital, removal of the stroke unit from Newry and the threat to Slieve Row Nursing Home, as well as worries over social welfare reform.

Major employers in the area have been hiring but hospitality is suffering and the high street has been decimated due to out-of-town and internet shopping.

UUP candidate Harold McKee said there should be a drive to “ensure that we create jobs and services that support the local community in the 21st century.”

Alliance candidate Martyn Todd vowed to work “to maximise the potential of the South Down tourist economy”, adding this will not be possible while the “political stalemate” between the bigger parties continues.

CANDIDATES (7)

BUCHAN, Felicity (Conservatives)

HAZZARD, Chris (Sinn Fein)

MCKEE, Harold (UUP)

REILLY, Henry (Ukip)

RITCHIE, Margaret (SDLP)

TODD, Martyn (Alliance)

WELLS, Jim (DUP)

PAST RESULTS:

2010:

• Margaret Ritchie (SDLP): 20,648

48.5%, up by 3.8% on 2005

• C Ruane (SF): 12,236

28.7%, up 2.9%

• Jim Wells (DUP): 3,645

8.6%, -9.7%

• John McCallister (UUP-Con): 3,093

7.3%, down 2.6%

• Ivor McConnell (TUV): 1,506

3.5%

• Cadogan Enright (Green): 901

2.1%

• David Griffin (Alliance): 560

1.3%, no change

Electorate: 70,784

Turnout: 60.5%

2005:

• Eddie McGrady (SDLP): 21,557

44.7%

• Caitriona Ruane (Sinn Fein): 12,417

25.8%

• Jim Wells (DUP): 8,815

18.3%

• Dermot Nesbitt (UUP): 4,775

9.9%

• Julian Crozier (Alliance): 613

1.3%

2001:

• Eddie McGrady (SDLP): 24,136

46.3%

• Mick Murphy (Sinn Fein): 10,278

19.7%

• Dermot Nesbitt (UUP): 9,173

17.6%

• Jim Wells (DUP): 7,802

15%

• Betty Campbell (Alliance): 685

1.3%