South Down is a constituency which includes Downpatrick, Newcastle, Warrenpoint and Kilkeel. The north of the constituency is commuter land to Belfast. The south is seaside resorts and small fishing ports. It is mostly nationalist and there are unionist areas around Kilkeel. A lot of farming in the Mourne Mountains.
Currently there are five MLAs…Sinn Féin (2) SDLP (2) DUP (1)). The DUP member left the Party to become Independent.
On Friday, I was in Downpatrick. Between now and election date, I hope to travel to either Newcastle or Warrenpoint.
The spreadsheet shows Assembly 2017 and Westminster 2019 results. For the benefit of folks in USA, it is important to understand that Assembly is decided in eighteen constituencies where having a quota of votes is required to win one of five seats. And Westminster is decided on a simple “first past the post” vote. I also include the runners and riders for 2022.
The quota will be quite high at over 8,000.
The Sinn Féin candidates are Cathy Mason who was co-opted to replace Chris Hazzard when he went to Westminster and Warrenpoint-based Sinéad Ennis. The two most recent elections suggest two quotas.
The retirement of Sinéad Bradley means that the SDLP candidates are current MLA, Colin McGrath and former MLA, Karen McKevitt.
This is a constituency where the SDLP is vulnerable.
The decline of SDLP in South Down needs to be halted. The party took two seats in 2017 but Alliance are believed to be on the point of picking up a seat.
To some extent, SDLP has been its own worst enemy here. There was heady talk that they could pick up the Westminster seat in 2019 if unionists voted tactically. It was not to be but the SDLP did not make a wise decision with their choice of candidate, Michael Savage.
Michael Savage had been the General Secretary of SDLP and only became a (co-opted) councillor on Newry and Mourne Council in 2017 and first elected to the council in May 2019.
So …in my view…not a good choice as he had no real pedigree as a an elected politician dealing with constituents issues. Worse perhaps, he was a councillor for Newry DEA which is actually in the Newry and Armagh constituency.
So effectively the South Down SDLP brought in an outsider when there were good councillors, notably Laura Devlin inside the constituency boundary.
South Down is always a tricky balancing act between strongholds like Downpatrick, Newcastle and Warrenpoint/Rostrevor. So shooting itself in the foot is not a good idea.
No doubt former Party Leader and MP, Margaret Ritchie is popular in some quarters but she left SDLP to become a member of the House of Lords. So I am not sure that having her canvass in South Down is a good idea.
It is not all bad news for SDLP in South Down.
There are four DEAs (Downpatrick, Mournes, Slieve Croob and Crotlieve) on Newry & Mourne District Council that are within South Down and a fifth (Rowallane) which is partly in South Down and Strangford.
A reality check. SDLP outvotes Alliance in all four South Down DEAs and Alliance outvotes SDLP in Rowallane.
It may be crucial, SDLP has eight councillors and Alliance only two. But of course Alliance can pick up unionist transfers.
In terms of election chances, this time around Alliance are deemed to have a good chance. But based on 4,500 votes in 2017, that still seems unlikely. Based on 7,000 in 2019, it is more likely.
I have tried to be fair to Alliance and all parties in these profiles but I make an exception in the case of Patrick Brown.
If you want to know anything about him, GOOGLE him. Sorry.
The unionist side of South Down is confusing. Jim Wells has held the DUP seat for decades and he has now left politics. He had been out of favour with DUP leadership for a few years and has now endorsed the TUV candidate, Harold McKee (the 2017 UUP candidate) who got over 4,000 votes. Confusing.
Diane Forsythe is the DUP candidate. They hold a seat thru Jim Wells. But she left DUP last year and rejoined a short time later
Jill McCauley UUP is undermined by many UUP members in South Down following Harold McKee to TUV. The transfers will be interesting…DUP or TUV but maybe enough to get Alliance a seat.
Rosemary McGlone (Aontú) can build on over 1,200 votes for the party from 2019. Still a party attached to Catholic doctrine on Pro-Life, there is certainly a base in South Down but where do transfers go.
Noeleen Lynch (Green). The party had less than 500 votes in 2017 and maybe 1,000 will be the maximum. Transfers likely to SDLP and Alliance.
Paul McCrory (People Before Profit) …the first time PBP have stood in the constituency.
Paddy Clarke…regular Independent with 192 votes in 2019.
None except it will be one of the constituencies to watch.