#AE16 Newry Armagh: Despite a couple of long shots, incumbency should have it…

Candidates: [Sinn Fein] Conor Murphy, Megan Fearon, Cathal Boylan; [UUP] Danny Kennedy, Sam Nicholson; [DUP] William Irwin; [SDLP] Karen McKevitt, Justin McNulty; [Alliance] Craig Weir; [UKIP] Alan Love; [Greens] Michael Watters; [CISTA NI] Emmet Crossan; [Independents] Paul Berry, Martin McAllister.

Newry Armagh is the second largest constituency in Northern Ireland, so quota levels are higher leaving few realistic competitors here for the six seats available. 66.4% of its population is Catholic, 30.6% Protestant, and just 2.5% with no religion.

Numbers and geography make it hard for anyone looking to create an upset. What’s rock solid certain is it will split 4/2 Nationalist Unionist. But as Nicholas Whyte points out there are two interesting long shots here.

The more compelling of the two is on the Unionist side. In both the Westminster and local elections the UU got a fairly hefty ‘border bounce’. With more than two quotas between the two of them, the UUP currently enjoy a 2/1 advantage over their Unionist rivals.

Unlike other parts of rural Ulster, DUP man William Irwin is ‘well got’ amongst Ulster Unionists, but they also have Jim Nicholson’s son John Sam running here, who by all accounts cuts a more than plausible figure in his own right.

The quota in 2011 was 6,645. Irwin’s first preferences got him over last time, but then Danny was only running on his own. To take the two seats the UUs will have to trim Kennedy’s vote severely to get the sort of spillover needed to get Nicholson over the line.

The electoral physics on the other side is even harder to predict. The biggest single electoral draw in Newry Armagh is Conor Murphy who just pipped Kennedy to top the poll in 2011 with a whopping 19.6%, nearly half the party’s total share.

Yet the SDLP is optimistic for a couple of reasons. Sentimentally, this was the last Westminster seat they ceded to SF after Seamus Mallon’s retirement. More pragmatically, in 2011 Murphy’s gravitational pull almost let Thomas O’Hanlon in ahead of Mickey Brady.

But it’s not enough to succeed in politics, in order to win, others must fail. And SF has sound reasons for optimism. The last council election rise for the SDLP saw SF keep proportionately ahead of them. Conor Murphy’s ‘local hero’ status should keep their vote stable.

In the Westminsters last year, Justin McNulty shipped a decent increase, particularly in his non-native north of Co Armagh. Whether that was due to McNulty’s county-wide pull, or SF running a Newry-based candidate is hard to tell.

McNulty’s running mate is former incumbent South Down MLA Karen McKevitt. She has an established profile as a politician, although not in Armagh. McNulty has ceded much of his own south Armagh home area to her in an effort to get her in.

What always messes with SDLP calculations here is the residual health of the Sinn Fein vote. Come election day, the relevant question for the SDLP may be: if they balance as well as they must in order to take the seat but come up short, which of the two SDLPers loses?

Newry and Armagh may contain tantalising ‘possibilities’, but as of now my money is on an ‘as you were’ return. Two UUP, Two SDLP and Two SF is not beyond possibility. But without some radical redefining air campaign, I’m sticking with the status quo…

Prediction: 3 SF; 1 UUP; 1 SDLP; 1 DUP.

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  • the keep

    If the DUP lose a seat here to the UUP at the election that would suggest that their losses will be heavier than people are currently suggesting.

  • mickfealty

    Wait for it, wait for it… 😉

  • Vada

    Jims son is called Sam, not John.

  • mickfealty

    Bugger. I checked everything else, honest!

  • Msiegnaro

    “William Irvine is well got,” what does that mean?

  • Hmmm….. I don’t disagree with you Mick, Though I think SDLP would be closer to 2nd seat than UUP.
    On the nationalist side, I think the UUP running 2 will hurt SDLP chances, the limited transfers they may have got could have went a long way, especially if it comes down to how close it was between Brady and O’Hanlon last time.
    On the other hand, McNulty done well in a FPTP election last year and McKevitt would be a bigger name than O’Hanlon (No disrespect, I know he is excellent on the ground) so its going to be close. SF will have to make sure Murphy is not so far ahead of the pack this time, though since 2011 I believe his stock has dropped after the NI Water scandal and the installation of Water meters. Fearon is untested in an election, and while she is active online….does that translate to on the ground?

  • Kevin Breslin

    SDLP doesn’t decide who wins in Newry and Armagh, the voters do. I’d be proud to have either candidate as my MLA.

    And McKevitt is a Newry woman, McNulty is of course an Armagh man it seems to be a balanced ticket in more ways than one.

  • Msiegnaro

    The DUP are running three candidates?!? That can’t be right!

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well, I do have one issue with your analysis from a purely mathematical viewpoint if the UUP do well by getting armchair supporters off their collective backsides the result is that is it increases the quota and it makes it harder for Sinn Féin to reach nearer 3 quotas safely (which shreds transferable surpluses) as much as it does the SDLP to reach nearer 2 quotas safely.

    Basically it’s swings and round-a-bouts to rely on others.

  • the keep


  • the keep

    Well thought of?

  • mjh

    Yes 2 UUP is a long shot – but probably even longer than you suggest, Mick. An SDLP second, on the other hand, is a far more realistic prospect.

    For the nationalist contest the evidence from 2011, 2014 and 2015 suggests that the decision of fewer than 100 voters could switch a seat from SF to SDLP.

    At the final stage of the 2011 count the SDLP runner up was only 611 votes behind the last SF, who was elected without making quota. At the same time the successful SDLP was sitting on a surplus of 476 votes – which was never distributed. Normally about 350 of these would be transferred to the second SDLP and about 50 to SF. In other words if 150 of SF’s 18995 first preference voters had chosen the SDLP instead – it would have been 2 SDLP and 2 SF elected.

    In 2014 there was no swing at all between the two parties.

    2015 brought a small swing from SF to SDLP. Not quite as much as the SDLP would need for the second seat – but very close. Projected onto the 2011 results for comparison, it would have delivered 177 more first preference votes to the SDLP, while the SF total would have been down by 42. That would still leave the SDLP around 80 to 110 votes behind (depending on how much of the SDLP improvement came from those who would have transferred to them anyway).

    There are three other factors which could help an SDLP gain:
    1) If the recent nationalist decline continues and effects SF ever so slightly more than the SDLP, and/or
    2) If an improvement in the unionist share creates a bigger unionist surplus for possible transfers to SDLP, and/or
    3) If there were a very small increase in the rate of unionist transfers. In 2011 535 UUP votes were not transferred to any other party. And when the TUV and UKIP were eliminated (along with Alliance and an Independent) 1490 votes did not transfer at all.

    In contrast the case for the UUP taking out the DUP is much weaker. It comes down to the 2014 Council Elections when the UUP was equivalent to 1.3 Assembly quotas – almost (but not quite) double that of the DUP on 0.7.

    But that is not the whole story.

    Leaving aside 2015 when the unionist pact meant the DUP did not stand, the UUP vote has been incredibly consistent. 1.3 of a quota for the 2011 Assembly, 1.3 equivalent quotas in the Council Elections on the same day. 1.3 again in 2014. No evidence here of it rising to the 1.4 or more likely 1.5 needed to take the DUP seat.

    The DUP vote, meanwhile, has weakened – by 0.1 of a quota between the 2011 and the 2014 elections. In 2011 they had 0.9 of a quota in the Assemby, but unlike the UUP they do not hold on to all of this in the Council elections where they scored 0.8. The main reason is almost certainly the former-DUP Paul Berry, whose 1927 votes in the Cusher DEA were equivilent to 0.3 of an Assembly quota.

    Berry is standing as an Independent next month. When he last stood as an Independent for the Assembly in 2007 his votes transferred about 5 votes to the DUP for every 3 to the UUP.

    To take the DUP seat the UUP need a large swing of 3.4% from the last Assembly. The 2014 results suggest that they had travelled only a quarter, or at very best just under a half, of that journey.

  • mjh

    They are running one. Former DUP Paul Berry is running as an Independent.

  • Msiegnaro

    Think it’s a typo in the breakdown at the top with three candidates being named for the DUP, it appears two are actually SDLP.

  • Msiegnaro

    Thanks, I thought for a moment the UUP had the upper hand over him.

  • Croiteir

    There is a wild card being played here that no one except me coz I am brilliant has taken into account. The independent. I am willing to bet good money that this is the Fianna Fail candidate. The one who had the PSNI chief walking around Crossmaglen.

    Now is this just a solo run by McAllister if it is he? Or is his a dipping the toe or a dummy run below the radar. Whatever it is the good citizens of Crossmaglen will know and no doubt vote accordingly.

    What will the effects on SF and SDLP be? As noted for the last seat between them there is only a couple of hundred votes.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Couldn’t be worse than losing it to Paul Berry. 😉

  • murdockp

    not to sure Justin and Karen would like to be considered as part of the DUP contingent. Bad enough being considered part of the SDLP without this additional cross to bear.

  • Gingray

    Not everything –

    “DUP man William Irvine is ‘well got’ amongst Ulster Unionists”

    Is it not Irwin?

  • SDLP supporter

    In a just world, Conor Murphy would be politically fatally damaged by the fallout from the Paul Quinn murder, and his despicable comments.

  • Ryan A

    I’m of the opinion Fearon is not established enough to hold the seat. Micky Brady nearly missed out last time despite being incumbent and the SDLP should split more evenly than last time. 2 SF, 2 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 UUP

  • Msiegnaro

    What did he say?

  • Adam Copeland

    Just shouting to all unionists to transfer down the line of unionists, all unionists should have a transfer from your preferable candidate, I personally will be with Paul Berry first then William Irwin and UUP after that, Paul is the only man to ever do anything around Glenanne. Haven’t seen the UUP since they last wanted votes and don’t even think Irwin put his own posters up in the area, probably doesn’t know we exist. Paul on the other hand has been superb in our council and should be just as good in Stormont

  • Msiegnaro

    Berry has been there before but surely this time he doesn’t stand a chance.

  • OrchardObserver

    He doesn’t stand a chance, although his core support at Council level is a peculiar phenomenon, as it seems to come from two very unlikely factions.

    1) Evangelical Christians, including members of the loyal orders.

    This is despite the widely-reported nature of the sexual allegations against him and his ultimate decision not to challenge them.

    2) ‘Hardline’ unionist elements

    This is despite having instructed a solicitors whose past clients include the alleged IRA Chief Slab Murphy to issue legal proceedings on his behalf against fellow unionists in the DUP.

    The lingering consequences of the whole affair certainly bring a strange conundrum. Of course it must be said that the vast majority of voters in the above groups have drawn more natural conclusions from the above developments, and I suspect this will be telling when the results are in on 6th May.

  • Croiteir

    I see it us McAllister as Bertie has endorsed him in the independant