Newry, Mourne and Down: Local issues taking a backseat to fears over hard border

The Mourne Mountains in Co Down
The Mourne Mountains in Co Down
Share this article

With Brexit uncertainty and fears of a hard border looming large over the frontier areas of south Armagh and south Down, many constituents are preoccupied with issues beyond the power of the local council.


However, those concerns could still result in a larger than usual turnout of nationalist voters who have become more politically engaged as a result of the anger that the UK leaving the European Union has created.
At the last council election in 2014, Sinn Fein and the SDLP returned 14 councillors each with unionists represented by eight councillors in total – four DUP, three Ulster Unionist and one Independent (originally elected as a Ukip candidate).
DUP MLA Jim Wells has been canvassing with his party’s candidates and said people only want to talk about Brexit and the lack of an executive at Stormont.
“There is a huge difference between what the candidates are canvassing on and what the people on the doors are saying.
“While the councillors are trying to canvass on their achievements, like the leisure centres, graveyards, bin collections, but people are exercised about Brexit and Stormont. You would like to think you could get them interested in day-to-day council issues but not a chance,” he said.
Mr Wells said nationalists in border areas have been energised by Brexit, and that Sinn Fein in particular could benefit.
“The nationalist population are clearly very angry about Brexit. There is a huge interest in wider issues. Unusually for [Sinn Fein] there was poor vote management at the last election ... with their transfers going all over the place, so I suspect they are targeting seats in Slieve Gullion and maybe targeting unionist seats and independent seats in places like Downpatrick.
“They only got one seat in Downpatrick the last time and that was a real surprise. So I think Sinn Fein are putting an all-out effort into to try to win back seats lost by poor vote management.”
One of the most high-profile issues affecting the council in recent years has been the row over the naming of a Newry playpark after IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh.
Last October, the majority of councillors defied the Sinn Fein representatives and voted to sell the playground if a private buyer could be found.
Unionists would need to increase their representation by one councillor to nine to qualify for the power of minority veto on the council.
The margins are expected to be tight once again with a close battle between the UUP and Alliance in a number of wards.
Following the 2014 poll, Slieve Croob UUP councillor Desmond Patterson said a decision by around 80 Ukip voters not to transfer any votes to other unionists meant he lost to an Alliance candidate by only 15 votes.
Jim Wells believes both Alliance seats are vulnerable.
“I think the unionist seats are fairly safe. There are eight unionist councillors and they are all high-profile and fairly able. In fact, we would be hopeful that we could pick up a fourth unionist seat in Rowallane.
“Alliance have two seats [in the overall constituency] and I will be very surprised if they get those two back.”

CANDIDATES:

CROTLIEVE:
Jim Boylan (Independent)
Michael Carr (SDLP)
Mark Gibbons (Independent)
Joshua Lowry (UUP)
Declan McAteer (SDLP)
Wilma McCullough (DUP)
Lorcan McGreevy (Alliance)
Karen McKevitt (SDLP)
Oksana McMahon (Sinn Fein)
Gerry O’Hare (Sinn Fein)
Mickey Ruane (Sinn Fein)
Jarlath Tinnelly (Independent)
Mary Tinnelly (Sinn Fein)
Six to be elected

DOWNPATRICK:
Alex Burgess (UUP)
Dermot Curran (SDLP)
Macartan Digney (Aontu)
Cadogan Enright (Independent)
Oonagh Hanlon (Sinn Fein)
Jamie Kennedy (Green Party NI)
Tiernan Laird (Alliance)
Jordan Madden (Sinn Fein)
James Savage (DUP)
Gareth Sharvin (SDLP)
John Trainor (SDLP)
Five to be elected

NEWRY:
Charlie Casey (Sinn Fein)
Valerie Harte (Sinn Fein)
Liz Kimmins (Sinn Fein)
Gavin Malone (Independent)
Sarah Jane McAllister (Sinn Fein)
Ricky McGaffin (UUP)
Michael Savage (SDLP)
Gary John Stokes (SDLP)
Helena Young (Alliance)
Six to be elected


ROWALLANE:
Terry Andrews (SDLP)
Patrick Brown (Alliance)
Robert Burgess (UUP)
Emma Cairns (Green Party NI)
Marianne Cleary (Sinn Fein)
Harry Harvey (DUP)
Walter Lyons (UUP)
Liam Mulhern (Aontu)
Martyn Todd (Independent)
William Walker (DUP)
Five to be elected


SLIEVE CROOB:
Gregory Bain (Alliance)
Hugh Gallagher (SDLP)
Maynard Hanna (DUP)
Tracy Harkin (Aontu)
Roisin Howell (Sinn Fein)
Alan Lewis (UUP)
Cathy Mason (Sinn Fein)
Mark Murnin (SDLP)
John Rice (Sinn Fein)
Five to be elected


SLIEVE GULLION:
Pete Byrne (SDLP)
Balazs Gazdag (Alliance)
Terry Hearty (Sinn Fein)
Linda Henry (DUP)
Mickey Larkin (Sinn Fein)
Kate Loughran (SDLP)
Oonagh Magennis (Sinn Fein)
Roisin Mulgrew (Sinn Fein)
Barra O’Muiri (Sinn Fein)
David Taylor (UUP)
Seven to be elected


MOURNES:
Willie Clarke (Sinn Fein)
Laura Devlin (SDLP)
Sean Doran (Sinn Fein)
Glyn Hanna (DUP)
Leeanne McEvoy (Sinn Fein)
Harold McKee (UUP)
Andrew McMurray (Alliance)
Brian Quinn (SDLP)
Henry Reilly (Independent)
Seven to be elected