Sinn Fein secures two as Lewis is poll topper

Sinn Fein secures two as Lewis is poll topper

8 May 2019

ALAN Lewis won the battle for the hearts and minds of unionists in Slieve Croob and caused a major surprise by topping the poll.

He increased the party’s share of the vote by 5% — topping the poll with 1,303 votes — while the DUP vote fell by just over 4.1% down from 1,021 votes in 2014 to 868 this time around.

But Sinn Fein remains the dominant force in Slieve Croob by a whopping margin with its three candidates polling almost 3,000 votes. 

Cathy Mason and Roisin Howell were contesting their first election for the party and made it safely home, but they could not bring sitting councillor John Rice with them who was disappointed to lose out.

The SDLP, chastened by its catastrophic decision to field three candidates in the 2014 election, opted for two with current council chairman Mark Murnin joined by health official Mark Gallagher carrying the party banner into battle.

Nationalists were confident of taking two seats for the first time but there was more bad news with Alliance tearing up the SDLP .

Gregory Bain not only retained the party seat previously held by party colleague Andy McMurray, but increased the party vote, up from 690 in 2014 to 863.

Gallagher eventually got over the line ahead of Murnin who was philosophical and indeed magnanimous in defeat, vowing to enjoy his remaining three weeks as the district’s first citizen.

When it was announced that Lewis had topped the poll there were raucous cheers from his supporters, with the man himself wearing a beaming smile. He could not have hidden his delight if he had wanted to.

His win secured the seat for the UUP in an area where the DUP was previously the dominant unionist representative.

Lewis said that he treated his canvass as a job interview and his message clearly resonated with voters. He believes there is a clear disconnect between residents and local government and aims to help repair the damage in his new role as a councillor.

The UUP man, who was previously a member of UKIP and the TUV,  says he intends to rebuild “trust and confidence” and maintains that politics is about “making an impact, not an income”.

Ballynahinch man Garth Craig polled 1,021 votes for the DUP in 2014, but his decision to bow out of local politics prompted the party to select the experienced Maynard Hanna from the Mourne area to contest the seat.

Hanna polled 868 votes but could not secure the transfers he needed with party sources suggesting that even if had lived closer to Slieve Croob, it may not have been enough given the fact that UUP man Lewis has enjoyed a high profile over recent years.

Sinn Fein invested much in their three Slieve Croob candidates and were hoping to get all three elected, but the vagaries of a PR election can often throw up unexpected results.

The fact three Sinn Fein candidates captured over 36% of the votes was a significant achievement, but sadly not enough to help sitting councillor Rice retain his seat.

Roisin Howell, who was co-opted to replace Stephen Burns, produced a storming performance securing 1,035 votes but her colleague Cathy Mason, also contesting her first local government election, went even better, securing 1,069 votes.

Both were understandably nervous as the count entered its final stages, with the exclusion of Rice paving the way for the two women to secure their seats, much to the delight of the Sinn Fein contingent following what a lengthy campaign.

Party officials have high hopes for the two women who intend to focus on a number of key issues including tourism and community, in particular, much-needed facilities for families across Slieve Croob.

Their election further increases the number of women in the chamber with Sinn Fein delighted at the impact this will have moving forward.

As for Alliance, Bain said he will be focusing on mental health issues. The party is delighted with his performance with the 24 year-old joining experienced party colleague Patrick Brown (Rowallane) in the chamber.