Election battlegrounds #GE19 : South Down

South Down was held by the Ulster Unionists until Eddie McGrady snatched the seat for the SDLP in 1987 defeating Enoch Powell. The writing had been on the wall for the UUP in 1983 and 1986 when they held the seat by slim majorities of just 548 and 1,842.

Since then, the SDLP had fairly comfortable majorities for 30 years. In 2017 however Chris Hazzard took the seat for Sinn Féin defeating sitting MP Margaret Ritchie. Hazzard’s majority of 2,446 is not huge but comfortable enough in comparison to other Sinn Féin seat defences in Fermanagh & South Tyrone and Foyle.

Over the past year in particular Hazzard has been one of Sinn Féin’s main media performers on issues such as Brexit and this increase in public profile should stand him in good stead.

Margaret Ritchie will not be standing for the SDLP this time having taken a seat in the House of Lords using the title Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick. Downpatrick is also one of the SDLP’s strongest areas in the constituency where they marked up 40% of first preferences in this year’s council elections. Their candidate this time out, Newry Councillor and former SDLP Chief Executive Michael Savage will need a good turnout of the party’s support here and an increase in support elsewhere to be in contention. He will also need strategic voting from unionist voters in the constituency but, as in Foyle, these seem to have been tapering off in recent years.

The DUP are running Mournes Councillor Glyn Hanna and will be seeking to maintain the DUP’s dominance in this constituency over the UUP who are fielding Banbridge Councillor Jill Mcauley. However the UUP did perform better than the DUP here in the recent council elections.

The Alliance’s Patrick Brown came within a few hundred votes of taking the fifth seat here in the 2017 Assembly election and he will be seeking to improve upon the 3.5% that Alliance received here at the last Westminster election. The party will be hoping that the fact that this is a two horse race between the SDLP and Sinn Féin will not squeeze them too much.

Aontú got over 400 votes in both Slieve Croob and Downpatrick respectively at the Council elections. This is one of seven constituencies that they are contesting. Their candidate is Paul Brady.

Hazzard remains the bookies favourite for this contest. The SDLP needs a combination of strategic voting from other party supporters and a dip in the Sinn Féin vote to be in the running here.

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