SDLP remains on top in Downpatrick

SDLP remains on top in Downpatrick

8 May 2019

ALL eyes were on the battle between the SDLP and Sinn Fein in Downpatrick.

Sinn Fein was bidding to secure two seats in the area for the first time since 2011, with the SDLP out to retain its three seats.

The SDLP emerged victorious with poll topper Gareth Sharvin, Dermot Curran and John Trainor amassing almost 3,000 votes between them, with Sinn Fein’s Oonagh Hanlon (1,032) and Jordan Madden (833) securing a total of 1,856 votes.

Nationalists believe the fact Sinn Fein was fielding two new candidates in an area which had three sitting SDLP councillors helped ensure they were all returned.

Sinn Fein did not prove transfer friendly enough and while Madden worked hard in the campaign he could not secure enough transfers to keep him ahead of Trainor who secured the fifth and final seat thanks to help from the UUP’s Alexander Burgess, whose transfers finally saw a mightily relieved SDLP man home.

While Madden’s turn will come again, both the SDLP and Sinn Fein will be worried that their respective share of the vote in the Downpatrick DEA has decreased since 2014.

The party’s respective hierarchy will also be concerned that people in working class estates are not coming out to vote in the numbers they once were. It is a problem they need to solve with SDLP and Sinn Fein sources suggesting better engagement with these particular voters is needed.

The SDLP’s share of the vote in the Downpatrick DEA has decreased from almost 51% five years ago to 40.6% with Sinn Fein’s share decreasing slightly from 28.2% in 2014 to 25.2%.

By contrast, Independent candidate Cadogan Enright increased his vote by 213, comfortably passing the 1,000 mark for the first time.

Pundits were suggesting that Enright could end up locked in a battle for the fifth seat with the SDLP’s Trainor and there were audible gasps in the Newry count centre when it was officially confirmed that the Independent candidate had finished second behind Sharvin on first preference votes, immediately placing increasing pressure on those chasing the remaining three seats.

Enright’s increased vote, which did not come as a surprise to the man himself, is viewed as a reward for his hard work with community groups in Downpatrick and those dotted across Lecale where he is extremely active in village communities. 

And, just like in 2014, many of these groups officially endorsed his candidacy and played a key role in an election canvass which saw a small army of workers trudge across the district on his behalf knocking doors and putting election material through letterboxes.

Regarded as a politician who gets things done, Enright is a thorn in the side of the big two parties in Downpatrick who took time to digest his performance at last week’s poll. 

Enright insists that analysis of the past four council elections in the Downpatrick DEA confirms that both the SDLP and Sinn Fein are losing favour with the people of Down and Lecale and that over the same period the unionist vote has remained steady at around seven percent.

Aontú’s Macartan Digney surprised many when he polled 475 votes and there are those who suggest that the well known candidate who is a member of the Downpatrick Community Collective — an umbrella body for local community groups and residents’ associations – may have taken votes off Enright whose first preference performance may have been even better.

As for the SDLP, the party heaved a huge sigh of relief that its three runners, including the province’s longest serving councillor, Dermot Curran, made it home.

All the party candidates had a fight on their hands with veteran Curran openly admitting that he was worried going into the election, describing it as his toughest to date. Sinn Fein clearly had the SDLP worried.

Republicans fought an intense campaign as it always do and there was obvious disappointment that only Hanlon, contesting her first election, secured a seat, with Madden unable to join her.

Hanlon, who works for South Down MLA Emma Rogan, ticks an important box for Sinn Fein as she  lives and works in Downpatrick and is acutely aware of the key issues which she will be able to address at council level.

Not having a councillor on the ground in the county town was an issue the party wanted to address at this election, but the hope of having two candidates evaporated as the Downpatrick count progressed and Madden struggled to secure the transfers he needed to join his party colleagues in the chamber.

Alliance, which did not field a candidate in 2014, was delighted with the performance of student Tiernan Laird who polled 375 votes, 30 ahead of the UUP’s Alexander Burgess, who was the party’s third choice to contest one of the five seats up for grabs in Downpatrick.

The DUP’s James Savage increased the party vote by five, polling 149 first preferences, while the Green Party’s Jamie Kennedy polled 128 votes.