Sinn Fein now biggest party

Sinn Fein now biggest party

8 May 2019

NEWRY, Mourne and Down Council’s chairman and vice-chairman were the high profile casualties of last week’s local election.

Following a marathon two-day count at Newry Leisure Centre, current SDLP chairman Mark Murnin lost out to his running mate Hugh Gallagher in Slieve Croob while his Sinn Fein deputy, Oksana McMahon, lost her seat in Crotlieve in an election of shocks and surprises.

Overall, Sinn Fein emerged as the biggest party with 16 seats — up two from 2014 — but it was a bad election for the SDLP which lost three of its most experienced councillors, Kate Loughran (Newry), Brian Quinn (The Mournes) and Michael Carr (Crotlieve). The party now has 11 seats.

Alliance’s Patrick Brown produced a stunning performance to top the poll in Rowallane, with another shock in Slieve Croob where Ulster Unionist Alan Lewis, who was contesting his first election, topped the poll.

Sinn Fein’s bold strategy of running three candidates in The Mournes paid off, but the election also marked the rise of the Independents with stunning performances by Cadogan Enright (Downpatrick), Jarlath Tinnelly, Mark Gibbons (both Crotlieve) and Gavin Malone in Newry.

Sinn Fein went into the election with hopes of potentially taking up to 18 seats given the runaway success of South Down MP Chris Hazzard in the 2017 Westminster poll when Republicans won a 40% share of the vote across the constituency.

The party earmarked Downpatrick as a key battleground to secure two seats and had high hopes for Oonagh Hanlon and Jordan Madden, who were contesting their first elections. But it wasn’t to be with only Hanlon getting over the line as Madden struggled to secure the transfers he needed to join her.

A statement of intent by Republicans to secure three seats in The Mournes for the first time paid off with Sean Doran, Willie Clarke and Leeanne McEvoy elected, with the election of latter two confirmed shortly before 2am on Saturday.

Sinn Fein were also bidding to secure three seats in Slieve Croob, but sitting councillor John Rice lost his seat, with Roisin Howell and Cathy Mason elected. Republicans were also disappointed at the loss of Ukrainian-born McMahon in Crotlieve amid suggestions by their political rivals that they had overstretched in this area.

Despite McMahon’s loss, Gerry O’Hare and Mickey Ruane were elected in this DEA, while in Slieve Gullion it was almost a clean sweep with the party taking five of the seven available seats.

The SDLP were mightily relieved to retain their three seats in Downpatrick with Gareth Sharvin topping the poll and joined by his colleagues Dermot Curran and John Trainor, the latter getting over the line thanks to UUP transfers

But the loss of council chairman Murnin to his party colleague, Hugh Gallagher, in Slieve Croob was a major blow for the party.

The effervescent Terry Andrews secured his seat in Rowallane, but he missed out on topping the poll this time around and Laura Devlin was unable to take her running mate Brian Quinn over the line with her in The Mournes, much to the disappointment of the party. Quinn’s seat was one of a number Sinn Fein had targeted and successfully wrestled from the grasp of nationalists.

Declan McAteer retained his seat in Crotlieve with former South Down MLA Karen McKevitt securing a seat. Pete Byrne recorded the third highest vote in Slieve Gullion but Loughran missed out despite polling 1,059 first preference votes.

Alliance retained the two seats it held in Rowallane and Slieve Croob and came agonisingly close to pulling off a major shock in The Mournes where Andy McMurray, who had switched from Slieve Croob, came 30 votes short of denying Sinn Fein its hat-trick success.

McMurray wasn’t given much of a chance as the party only polled 260 votes in 2014, but he pulled in almost  950 first preferences as the Alliance surge across the Province had ripple effect across the district.

Pundits had not predicted Brown topping the poll with some even suggesting that he could have been involved in a dogfight for the fifth seat after the decision by Independent Martyn Todd to enter the fray. How wrong they were with him securing 1,416 first preference votes. 

Gregory Bain, who was defending the party seat in Slieve Croob, was ahead of Murnin by 173 first preference votes and this effectively kept the council chairman behind the eight ball for the remainder of the count. Newry candidate Helena Young also polled well in her first outing securing 721 first preferences.    

The UUP were cock-a-hoop that Lewis, contesting his first election, topped the poll with a stunning performance, more than doubling Dessie Patterson’s vote in 2014 to take his seat in the chamber alongside David Taylor (Slieve Gullion), the returning Harold McKee in The Mournes and Rowallane stalwart Robert Burgess.

But there was disappointment that Walter Lyons did not join Lyons in Rowallane, with party  officials also pointing to the ‘Todd factor’ which resulted in Burgess being unable to transfer as many votes as planned to his running mate.

The DUP return to the council with one seat less after Maynard Hanna failed to retain the Slieve Croob seat previously held by Garth Craig. Despite the disappointment, Glyn Hanna topped the poll in The Mournes for the first time — just weeks after hip replacement surgery, with Billy Walker and Harry Harvey retaining their seats in Rowallane where it is a case of as you were with the same five councillors returning to the council.

Independent Unionist Henry Reilly, who topped the poll in The Mournes in 2014, was delighted to retain his seat three decades after he fought his first election, describing his success as his “most satisfying” as he did not have a major party behind him, as was the case five years ago when he was a UKIP candidate.

Aontú will be relatively pleased with its first election performance with its three candidates polling over 1,000 votes. Tracy Harken was the top performer in Slieve Croob with 481 first preferences with the figures for Macartan Digney and Liam Mulhern 475  and 99 respectively.   

Green Party candidates Emma Cairns (Rowallane) and Jamie Kennedy (Downpatrick) polled 182 and 128 votes respectively.