NOMINATIONS have closed for next month’s Assembly election with candidates in South Down and Strangford stepping up their campaigns as voters prepare to go to the polls on March 2.
As the countdown to polling day continues, the various parties are battling for the hearts and minds of voters in a bid to book their places in the new Stormont Executive which will have 90 candidates — 18 fewer than last time as only five MLAs will be elected in each constituency.
Nominations for the election closed last Wednesday, with 11 candidates chasing the five seats up for grabs in South Down and 13 candidates chasing the five seats in the Strangford constituency.
In South Down, the SDLP’s Colin McGrath and Sinead Bradley are flying the party flag with officials confident of retaining the two seats they currently hold.
Sinn Fein is confident voters will return Chris Hazzard and Sinead Ennis to the Assembly with the notable absentee this time around former Education Minister and Deputy Assembly Speaker Caitriona Ruane who has decided not to stand.
All eyes will be on the intriguing battle within unionism in South Down between the DUP’s Jim Wells and Ulster Unionist Harold McKee. Alliance’s Patrick Brown hopes to improve upon his impressive performance in last May’s Assembly poll, while the TUV candidate is Lyle Rea.
Former Newry, Mourne and Down councillor Patrick Clarke sprung a major surprise last week when he announced he would be standing as an Independent, while Hannah George is the Green Party representative. The Conservative candidate is Gary Hynds.
In Strangford, the DUP is hoping to retain its three seats, one of which was previously held by former Stormont Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell. He resigned in the wake of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal and will contest the March 2 poll as an Independent.
The DUP has moved former North Down MLA Peter Weir into Strangford where he is standing alongside Simon Hamilton and Michelle McIlveen. The Ulster Unionist candidates are party leader Mike Nesbitt and Philip Smith.
Alliance’s Kellie Armstrong is out to retain her seat, while veteran Ards and North Down councillor Joe Boyle, who has come very close on previous occasions to securing a seat, is flying the flag for the SDLP.
Jimmy Menagh is standing as an Independent Unionist while Ricky Bamford is contesting the election on behalf of the Green Party. Scott Benton is the Conservative’s representative, while Stephen Cooper is the TUV’s candidate. Sinn Fein’s Strangford representative is Dermot Kennedy.
Province-wide, the DUP is fielding the most candidates with 38, followed by Sinn Féin on 34. The Ulster Unionist Party has 24 candidates, while the SDLP and Alliance have 21 each.
The Green Party is fielding 18 candidates, the TUV 14, the Conservatives 13 and People Before Profit seven. The Workers Party has five candidates in the race, the cross-community Labour Alternative has four, while the PUP and the Citizens Independent Social Thought Alliance have three each. UKIP is fielding one candidate.