Armagh City Hotel last night. SDLP members and friends gathered to formally launch the election campaign in Newry & Armagh.
Among the speakers, Deputy Leader, Fearghal McKinney, who introduced Justin McNulty and Karen McKevitt.
The two candidate strategy is designed to bring in two MLAs.The constituency has been divided for canvassing purposes with Justin being allocated Armagh area and Karen being allocated the area around Newry and South Armagh.
Justin McNulty is a member of a SDLP “family” and was a member of the Armagh team which won the All-Ireland in 2002. So there is a name recognition factor and he was the Party’s candidate in last years Westminster Election. Some quotes from his speech….”we will not perpetuate Fear”, “our voters are out there waiting for us” and “this constituency has had two successive Roads Ministers and we have the worst roads”.
Karen McKevitt is outgoing MLA for South Down. Her speech referenced victims of the Troubles, including the murders of the Reavey brothers (committed by loyalists), the Kingsmill Massacre (committed by republicans) and the more recent brutal murder of Paul Quinn.
The overall mood was one of genuine affection for the candidates and outgoing MLA, Dominic Bradley who has been a major advocate for the Irish language and for Autism. Dominic is the Campaign Manager and a lot of his speech was about the logistics of the campaign.
Can two seats be won? Well, certainly people I talked to detect a change in the conversations they are having on doorsteps. But as always, a major factor will be the turnout on 5th May.
How is morale in the SDLP in that constituency? Is there a mood to be serious about vote management and the like?
In Newry & Armagh?
I would say morale is pretty good but its the nature of campaign launches to be optimistic.
Launches are arranged that way.
I wouuld make a general point that optimism breeds optimism (and vice versa). Numbers are certainly as good as Ive seen since I rejoined party after 30 years away.
During the past five years I have always said that SDLP was not in as bad shape as people thought but I have consistently said that recovery has been “patchy”.
This time around, I am allowing myself to be more optimistic.
Vote management is always crucial but there are enough energetic young people and “old hands” around.