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UUP and SDLP face big battle for fifth seat

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

UUP and SDLP face big battle for fifth seat thumbnailStormont

ONE of South Down's MLAs will lose their job at the next Assembly election, as the number of constituency representatives drops by one to five.

The big battle is expected to centre on who takes the fifth seat and given recent controversy, it could be difficult to predict given fears of protest votes and low voter turnout.

Who gets the last seat could go to the wire. It will probably be a straight fight between the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist flag-bearer who is again expected to be newcomer, Mourneman Harold McKee who says he is "most definitely" putting his name forward for selection.

One sitting MLA has already dropped out of the race. Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane announced that she would not be seeking selection at a selection convention in Hilltown at the weekend. Leaving two Sinn Fein candidates confirmed as Chris Hazzard and Sinead Ennis.

SDLP newcomer Sinead Bradley - daughter of veteran politician PJ Bradley - topped the poll in the last election and says she knows the people of South Down would prefer the politicians to "be getting on with our work".

Meanwhile, Glascar man John McCallister who lost his seat in the last election isn't showing his hand just yet.

He says "I have not made any decision yet" about the election in two months' time.

Mr McCallister was first elected to the Assembly in 2007 as UUP MLA and re-elected in 2011. However in February 2013, he resigned from the party and co-founded NI21 with Basil McCrea.

After internal conflict he then resigned from NI21 in 2014 and sat as an Independent until 2016 before defeat at the polls. He said that those in Stormont should have been trying to "sort it out".

In May last year, Sinead Bradley topped the poll with 5,059 first preference votes and was followed by Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard with 5,045.

The DUP's Jim Wells polled 5,033 first preference votes and was followed by SDLP's Colin McGrath with 4,288 first preference votes and Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane with 4,191 votes.

The SDLP's Sean Rogers polled 3,564 votes and Sinn Fein's Michael Gray-Sloan polled 3,520 votes and UUP's Harold McKee got 3,481 votes.

TUV's Henry Reilly, Patrick Brown of the Alliance party, Independent John McCallister and Green party candidate John Hardy polled 2,718, 2,200, 1,156 and 820 respectively.

The big unknown is just how the electorate will respond to the controversy over the Renewable Heating Incentive Scheme and the possible 490m cost to the taxpayer over the next 20 years.

The DUP has made it clear that former First Minister, Arlene Foster, retains the support of the party.

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