Republican trio in as Hanna tops poll

Republican trio in as Hanna tops poll

8 May 2019

SINN Fein’s brave decision to field three candidates in The Mournes paid a handsome dividend, but the party had to wait until shortly before 2am on Saturday to have the news confirmed.

While the DUP’s Glyn Hanna topped the poll with 1,944 votes — 430 over the quota — all eyes were on Sinn Fein to see if the bold decision to secure three seats for the first time would be rewarded.

With Sean Doran comfortably home after polling an impressive 1,885 votes, there was concern that the party’s regimental vote management system may have been skewed by more people putting a one beside Doran’s name than intended, given his huge popularity.

There was also an added problem for Sinn Fein in the shape of Alliance’s Andy McMurray, standing in The Mournes for the first time after switching from Slieve Croob. He was threatening to spoil the party after polling a particularly impressive 943 first preference votes.

While not considered a threat by pundits, McMurray came just 30 votes short — after transfers — of causing a major shock.

In the end, what was proving an uncomfortable evening and early morning for Sinn Fein sitting councillor Willie Clarke, who described the election campaign as the most intensive he had ever been involved in, and newcomer Leeanne McEvoy, ended in relieved smiles.

As the duo waited for their election to be confirmed, Doran, who had been awake from 4.30am, was nervously placing the floor, admitting to reporters he felt a “nervous wreck” as what at times seemed a laborious election count continued.

The smile on his face was unmissable when it was formally confirmed that his partners had been elected but, sadly, for the Sinn Fein duo, there was only a handful of party supporters in the election count centre to congratulate them as everyone else had gone home.

Nonetheless, Doran, McEvoy and Clarke celebrated together, clearly recognising the significance of the result for Republicans in an area once regarded as a unionist stronghold.

The SDLP’s Laura Devlin, who was popping in and out of the count to keep an eye on her new baby Polly who is two months old, comfortably retained her seat with 1,572 votes but the election marked the end for her party colleague, Brian Quinn, who was eliminated after polling just 607 first preference votes. 

Given that he was so far behind, it was inevitable that Quinn, who was a member of the former Newry and Mourne Council, would lose his seat, although early on in the count it was not clear to whom. When the SDLP stalwart was formally eliminated from the contest he was consoled by his loyal party colleagues.

As for DUP man Hanna, his canvass was hampered by the fact that 10 weeks ago he underwent hip replacement surgery, restricting his mobility. However, the voters came out in numbers helping him top the poll which he admitted he hadn’t expected.

Elsewhere, there were resounding wins for the UUP’s Harold McKee — who is returning to the council chamber for a second time after losing his South Down Assembly seat in 2017 when the number was reduced from six to five — and Independent Unionist Henry Reilly.

The highly respected McKee is no stranger to elections and admitted that the most recent was his easiest to date. Given the absence of the Assembly he believes it is time more powers were handed to local councils to let them get on with the job of looking after their respective districts.

McKee insists that local government is about delivering for people, highlighting the importance of all councillors working together for the benefit of their respective areas.

Reilly, who fought his first election 30 years ago and along with McKee was elected on the second count, surprisingly admitted that he was worried going into this one as he did not have a party machine behind him. He described his election as “most satisfying”.

While his vote dipped by over 500 from 2014, Reilly explained that when he topped the poll five years ago as a member of UKIP, the party was spending tens of thousands of pounds on its EU election campaign and he was its Northern Ireland candidate.

Afraid that his council vote could have collapsed by as much as 900, Reilly focused his election campaign solely on Kilkeel and Annalong which he described as his “heartland” also expressing concern that he was not allow to declare himself as an Independent Unionist on the ballot paper and that Alliance was running a strong candidate.

As for McMurray, he insisted that he had no regrets switching to The Mournes as it “felt the right thing to do” and was pleased with his performance first time out in an area which was new to him.

He used a football analogy to describe coming just 30 votes short of causing a major upset, adding: “It’s like playing well away from home and losing 5-4. A great game and great performance but you don’t get the three points. It is certainly not the end and given that there are almost 1,000 Alliance voters in The Mournes it is a bigger mandate than some people elected in other areas have. These people need someone to speak on their behalf.”