Election 2017: South Down top spot was unionist-nationalist tie last time

The Mourne Mountains, south Down
The Mourne Mountains, south Down

The nationalist heartland of South Down has was the focus of much media attention last year following the furore around DUP candidate Jim Wells’ remarks on same-sex couples and child abuse.

Mr Wells resigned as health minister after making the comments at a hustings event in 2015, but soon resurrected his political career.

An accurate transcript of his full comments showed he had made it clear children are at greater risk of abuse in any kind of “non-stable” partnership, whether gay or straight, and a woman was later successfully prosecuted for lying to police about what he had said at the hustings.

Having already been given a vote of confidence by his party, Mr Wells was then comfortably re-elected to Stomont in 2016 with more than 5,000 first preference votes – just 26 votes short of topping the poll headed by Sinead Bradley of the SDLP.

This time around the ex-TUV candidate Henry Reilly is not standing and has endorsed Mr Wells.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP were neck-and-neck last year with Chris Hazzard just 14 votes behind Sinead Bradley.

Both are seeking re-election and expected to lead the way again in terms of first preference selection.

Sinn Fein’s Catriona Ruane is not seeking re-election and has been replaced on the ballot paper by Sinead Ennis.

Both Ms Ennis and Colin McGrath of the SDLP, who was elected with 4,288 votes last year, are expected to be sitting in Stormont after March 2.

Ulster Unionist Harold McKee looks the most vulnerable of the six seats as a result of the one-seat reduction from six to five.

2017 candidates:

• Sinead Bradley (SDLP)

• Patrick Brown (Alliance)

• Patrick PC Clarke (Independent)

• Sinead Ennis (Sinn Fein)

• Hannah George (Greens)

• Chris Hazzard (Sinn Fein)

• Gary Hynds (Conservatives)

• Colin McGrath (SDLP)

• Harold McKee (UUP)

• Lyle Rea (TUV)

• Jim Wells (DUP)

2016 results:

• Jim Wells (DUP) 5,033 (12.3%)

• Chris Hazzard (Sinn Féin) 5,045 (12.3%)

• Sinead Bradley (SDLP) 5,059 (12.3%)

• Caitríona Ruane (Sinn Féin) 4,191 (10.2%)

• Colin McGrath (SDLP) 4,288 (10.4%)

• Seán Rogers (SDLP) 3,564 (8.7%)

• Michael Gray-Sloan (Sinn Féin) 3,520 (8.6%)

• Harold McKee (UUP) 3,481 (8.5%)

• Henry Reilly (TUV) 2,718 (6.6%)

• Patrick Brown (Alliance) 2,200 (5.4%)

• John McCallister (Independent) 1,156 (2.8%)

• John Hardy (Green) 820 (2.0%)

Electorate: 77,409

Votes cast: 41,645 (53.7%)