NI election: Constituency profile of Newry and Armagh

From Daniel Craig to ‘catholic tastes’, a profile of the Newry and Armagh candidates

Sinn Féin candidate for Newry and Armagh Mickey Brady: Says this is a “two horse race” between him and the UUP’s Danny Kennedy. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Sinn Féin candidate for Newry and Armagh Mickey Brady: Says this is a “two horse race” between him and the UUP’s Danny Kennedy. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

The two main nationalist contenders in Newry and Armagh have interesting back stories. The SDLP’s Justin McNulty is a former Armagh All-Ireland medallist who triggers comparisons with James Bond on canvass, while the Sinn Féin candidate, Mickey Brady probably wouldn’t have set foot on the planet but for Brendan Behan.

Danny Kennedy of the Ulster Unionist Party is the sole unionist, competing as a result of the DUP-UUP pact in four of the North’s constituencies. In a perfectly split nationalist vote he could win, but it would need to be perfect.

Brady says this is a “two horse race” between him and Danny Kennedy although on the ground it seems there are three main competitors in the field. Kate Nicholl for Alliance and Robert Rigby of the Conservatives are also standing.

The deadliest rivalry

The deadliest rivalry is between McNulty and Brady, rather than between Orange and Green. Neither the Sinn Féiner nor the SDLP man wants to give any advantage to the other or indeed say anything much at all about the other.

Sinn Féin may be a little uncertain about McNulty. He played for Mullaghbawn in south Armagh and won his medal almost 13 years ago when Armagh defeated Kerry to take their first and sole All-Ireland championship. A full back playing alongside his brother Enda a critical interception of his in the final seconds of the game ensured Armagh won by a single point.

“That was in 2002; I am not sure what that qualifies anybody for,” says Brady rather dismissively. “I canvassed Mullaghbawn the week before last and there was no mention of him whatsoever.”

“Ah, Mickey is good crack,” is McNulty’s droll response when out canvassing in Brady’s home town of Newry. “Was that his first time in Mullaghbawn?”

This is the only constituency where the outgoing MP is not running. Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy had a majority of 8,000 against the SDLP candidate Dominic Bradley, MLA in 2010 with regional development Minister Danny Kennedy 2,000 votes behind again.

Those figures would indicate that Brady should stroll onto the House of Commons seat he will refuse to sit upon, but it must be said that McNulty is getting good traction in Newry and Armagh. It’s surprising the number of people, all women, who tell him he bears a striking resemblance to the James Bond actor, Daniel Craig. The comparison comes up time and time again.

Very Catholic tastes

Mickey Brady says when he is not engaged in politics he loves to read. “I have very Catholic tastes.” His favourite writer is Brendan Behan, and not just simply for his literary ability or his republican background.

Brady’s father Billy was working for shipbuilding company Cammell Laird in Birkenhead across the Mersey from Liverpool in 1939 on a prototype submarine, HMS Thetis. That was the time 16-year-old Behan, the Borstal Boy, arrived in England to blow up Liverpool docks on behalf of the IRA.

“But Brendan was scooped,” explained Brady. “As a result the Irish workers for Cammell Laird were screened and not allowed on the submarine because they were seen as a security risk.”

The Thetis sank during sea trials in June 1939 with the loss of 99 lives, 26 of them Cammell Laird employees.

“We have a family debt to Brendan Behan - my father was an electrician who probably would have been one of the workmen on the submarine,” said Brady.

Newry Armagh constityency profile

Stormont is again in a state of stasis due to welfare reform and Brady, who is 64, is a man who knows the nuts and bolts of welfare, having worked full time with the Newry Welfare Rights Centre for 26 years before being elected an Assembly member in 2007.

When he started in 1981 unemployment in this very Catholic town - now designated a city - was about 25-26 per cent, he said, and now is it 5-6 per cent. “The difficulty though is that we live in a low wage economy; a lot of people are depending on tax credits.”

Despite the fact that the welfare issue is holding up the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement Brady says that on the doorstep people support Sinn Fein’s stance. “The fact is Northern Ireland is a special case,” he said, while citing particular issues such as “historically higher rates of disability, of deprivation, some of the most deprived wards in the North, post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the Troubles, mental health issues…”

The big problem about breaking the logjam is that “the DUP are Tories”, added Brady who is fairly confident he will hold the seat for Sinn Féin.

Justin McNulty

Justin McNulty says the toughest forwards he ever defended against were John Crowley of Kerry, Stephen O’Neill of Tyrone and Down’s Mickey Linden. A very energised 40-year-old civil engineer who in recent years managed the Laois GAA team he believes he can cause one of the upsets of the election.

He seems to have picked up a few self-motivating tricks from his former Armagh manager Joe Kernan.

“I am going to win it. There is no majority so great that it can’t be overturned,” he insisted. “I am the underdog here, there is no doubt about it. But did we go into that 2002 all-Ireland final thinking we could not win it? Not for one second, we believed with every ounce of our being that we could win.”

This night he is out canvassing 200 houses in the neighbouring Drumgullion and Lisgullion estates in Newry, where the homes belong to the local housing association or have been privately bought.

With him is a team of 20 canvassers in high-viz Team McNulty jackets that includes his mother, his brother, his sister, his godmother and 14-year-old Ryan Kelly, whose wise history teacher has advised this is where you can observe modern history.

Sinn Féin would have good support here but McNulty gets a positive reception, apart from in one house where a republican tells him bluntly, “Not a chance.”

McNulty has an easy way about him, naturally kicking a ball with some local boys and girls, spinning a ball expertly on his finger tip. He plays on his relative youth and energy, his spiel that people need an MP who will attend the House of Commons: “We need change, we need something to happen.”

Danny Kennedy has just finished canvassing the predominantly unionist town of Markethill. No, he didn’t get a chance to call to Seamus Mallon’s house, but would have liked to have done so.

“It’s going well,” he said. “The big issue is can Newry and Armagh get a voice again in the house of Commons rather than an abstentionist who refuses to take his seat?”

Like Sinn Fein he is keeping a keen eye on Justin McNulty, the dark horse in this race. And like Brady he knows that this election in Newry and Armagh is not just quite as predictable as one might expect.

Electorate 79,966

Candidates

Mickey Brady (Sinn Féin)

Danny Kennedy (UUP)

Justin McNulty (SDLP)

Kate Nicholl (Alliance)

Robert Rigby (Conservatives)

Conor Murphy (Sinn Féin outgoing MP - not standing)

Prediction Mickey Brady

2010 Westminster General Election

Conor Murphy (Sinn Féin) 18,857 (42.0%)

Dominic Bradley (SDLP) 10,526 (23.4%)

Danny Kennedy (UCUNF) 8,558 (19.1%)

William Irwin (DUP) 5,764 (12.8%)

William Frazer (Independent) 656 (1.5%)

Andrew Muir (Alliance) 545 (1.2%)