Voters prepare for Christmas election

Voters prepare for Christmas election

6 November 2019

VOTERS across the district are preparing for the first Christmas election in almost a century.

In 1923, voters went to the polls on December 6 and 96 years later they will be making their way to polling stations across South Down on December 12.

The decision by Prime Minister Boris Johnston to call a snap election did not come as a major surprise and while Brexit is likely to be the dominant issue, there will be other issues exercising voters’ minds.

Sinn Fein’s Chris Hazzard — who two years ago wrestled the South Down seat from the clutches of the SDLP when he defeated Margaret Ritchie — has been selected to defend his 2,446 majority, which many believe he can increase.

However, the SDLP will have something to say about that and have selected Newry councillor Michael Savage, who has close ties with Down District and was educated at St Patrick’s Grammar School in Downpatrick, to be the party’s standard bearer.

The DUP has selected Glyn Hanna whose daughter Diane Forsythe contested the 2017 Westminster poll and increased the party’s share of the vote across the constituency by just over 9%.

The UUP has selected former Newry, Mourne and Down councillor Jill Macauley as its candidate and she will be hoping to substantially increase the 2,002 votes secured by Harold McKee two years ago.

There will also be much interest in the performance of Alliance’s Patrick Brown. The party enjoyed a major increase in its local council election vote earlier this year with party officials hoping that that success will be repeated next month. In 2017, Alliance candidate Andrew McMurray polled 1,814 votes.

Mr Hazzard says the election is an opportunity to reject the “reckless Tory/DUP Brexit” and drive forward momentum for Irish unity.

“Sinn Féin is ready for the election and to seize the opportunity to unseat Brexiteer DUP MPs across the north,” he declared.

“In the last Westminster election, the nationalist people sent a powerful message by turning its back on Westminster and returning seven Sinn Féin MPs, including an historic victory in South Down.”

Mr Hazzard added: “Given the catastrophe that Westminster is attempting to force upon our island it is vital that people here in South Down continue to show Dublin, Europe and the world that we still reject Brexit, borders and the DUP.”

Describing the Westminster poll as a “defining election,” Mr Savage said that local people deserved more than an empty seat in parliament.

He declared: “Brexit is a national emergency. It threatens people, jobs and businesses across this island and at a time of immense crisis, it’s just not good enough that our current MP has decided to abstain on this island’s future. 

“Boris Johnson, the DUP and others are delighted that it’s one less vote against their plans to privatise our health service and sell large chunks off to American profiteers. They are delighted that there’s no one representing people here who oppose welfare cuts and austerity that have left the most vulnerable destitute.”

Mr Savage added: “This is a moment for leadership. My promise to people in South Down is that I will never abstain on our future. I will never abstain on the need for investment in people and communities here. I will never abstain on protecting the Good Friday Agreement or the people I represent. With no Executive and no Assembly for 1,000 days, our future is being decided in London and we’re having no say in it. No more.”

Mr Hanna says he is looking forward to the election and that there are many issues which party voters are concerned about, including abortion and gay marriage.

“Brexit is undoubtedly going to be a key issue for many, in particular, those who work in the fishing industry. My priority will also be keeping the Union safe; maintaining it is absolutely vital,” he declared. “Other issues people have raised with me include abortion and gay marriage. I am very much pro-life.”

Mr Hanna says he hopes to retain the DUP’s position as the voice of unionism across South Down and hopes that if possible, he can increase his daughter Diane’s 8,867 votes in 2017.

He added: “The people in South Down have consistently placed their trust in the DUP. I topped the poll in the Mournes DEA in the last council election, doubling my vote and believe that I am coming from a good platform for this election. The unionist people who want to remain British need to vote for the DUP.”

Mrs Macauley said that last year marked the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which she voted for, explaining that she was part of the generation that saw the opportunity of what was possible then. 

“I certainly don’t want to be part of the political generation who loses the vision of what we have become,” she declared. “I have always had a strong loyalty to the UUP and the honest values that it represents and we have had a long and proud tradition of representing the best of Ulster Unionist values.”

Mrs Macauley suggested that the forthcoming election is the most important the people of the UK have ever faced. She said Boris Johnson’s deal with the EU represents an “existential threat to the Union,” putting a border in the Irish Sea and placing Northern Ireland on “the window ledge of the Union.”

She added: “The acceptance of a regulatory border by the DUP was vigorously opposed by my party. This decision has opened the floodgates for Boris Johnson and his dreadful deal. The Union itself is now in a precarious position because of these actions and its absolutely vital that MPs are returned to Westminster who will take their seats and be able to influence the future direction of our nation.” 

Mr Brown said that more than ever, a progressive, liberal voice was needed in Westminster representing South Down and is looking forward to representing Alliance in an election which comes during a period of great uncertainty and instability in Northern Ireland.

“Whilst the DUP fail to represent the majority of people here and Sinn Fein don’t even bother showing up, every Alliance MP elected will deliver for everyone in our society,” he said.

The Alliance candidate said his priorities include stopping Brexit, protecting the environment and working tirelessly for constituents.

He added: “A vote for Alliance will  be a vote against Brexit and put pressure on the UK Government to take immediate action to restore the Stormont institutions. This election is people’s chance to voice their anger and frustration at the failure of DUP/SF and the 1,000-plus days without a government. This election is an opportunity to demand better from politicians.”