South Down: Sinn Féin pulls off ‘historic’ result
Sinéad Ennis and Chris Hazzard stage spectacular one-two in the constituency
Sinn Féin’s Chris Hazzard has been re-elected to Stormont. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Newcomer Sinéad Ennis helped Sinn Féin pull off a spectacular one-two in South Down in the North’s Assembly election, with a combined vote of more than 19,000 votes.
The party’s bright new star topped the poll ahead of party colleague Chris Hazzard, the minister in charge of the North’s Department for Infrastructure in the last Executive.
Mr Hazzard has been a member of the Assembly since 2012, and although his return to Stormont was never in doubt, the performance of Ms Ennis, a member of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council for just three years, was hugely impressive, especially for a relative newcomer to frontline politics.
Ms Ennis is replacing the outgoing Caitríona Ruane.
She topped the poll with 10,256 votes, but claimed she didn’t expect to finish first.
“Everybody may be making a big deal about topping the poll, but it was never on the agenda. Our focus was to maximise the Sinn Féin vote in South Down.”
Ms Ennis, a member of the Down GAA senior ladies football panel, added: “This election was based on real issues, and I am very proud of the campaign we waged.
“We got the feeling on the doors it was going to be positive. How it turned out is beyond everybody’s expectations. We want to get the institutions back up and running and to deliver.
“Hopefully the DUP will approach this in the same way.”
Mr Hazzard said it was an historic election for the party in South Down.
He added: “We are very fortunate we have really good mentors in South Down. We have learned from the best, and we have delivered on it.”
The constituency was once a powerbase for the SDLP.
SDLP candidate Sinéad Bradley’s win for the party was overshadowed by the death of her father, PJ Bradley, an MLA from 1998 until 2011, and whose funeral was held as the counting continued in Lisburn.
She was not present when deputy returning officer Maureen Carroll announced, in a near-empty declaration room, that Ms Bradley had been elected on the third count.
DUP candidate Jim Wells claimed his doorsteps during the campaign were by far the easiest he had ever encountered. He was elected on the fourth count.
He also insisted the political fallout over the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme scandal had absolutely no impact on his campaign.
A jubilant Mr Wells declared: “It was the most pleasant of all. RHI was the flame that never burned in South Down.”