Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

‘It hurts’: UUP’s Kennedy loses out as SF tally soars

The  biggest shock of Thursday’s snap election was undoubtedly the failure of Newry and Armagh Ulster Unionist, Danny Kennedy, to retain the Assembly seat he has occupied for almost 20 years.

With five instead of six seats up for grabs, it was always going to be a tight race.  However, Sinn Fein increased its percentage of the vote significantly – successfully returning Megan Fearon, Conor Murphy and Cathal Boylan – which effectively sounded the death knell for one of the two unionist seats.

The DUP’s William Irwin bucked the national trend for his party and topped the poll with 9,760 first preference votes and celebrating his return to the Assembly, he said the unionist message in the constituency was “loud and clear”.

“We have had a lot of bad press from the media and been attacked by other parties across the board.  People saw through a lot of the attacks,” he said, adding that his election campaign had been “a clean fight”.

Justin McNulty held on to his seat for the SDLP, polling 7,675 first preference votes, albeit that the party’s overall support had dipped.  And as a result of Sinn Fein’s disciplined vote management, Conor Murphy was elected at the third count, forcing a visibly upset Danny Kennedy to concede defeat.

Speaking afterwards, he admitted the defeat will likely signal the end of his political career, given his age and length of service.

“It hurts, it hurts a lot,” Mr Kennedy said, revealing his disappointment.

“When you are beaten you have to recognise it – it can’t be anyone else’s fault.

“I had indicated through the course of the campaign that it was possible if Sinn Fein had a tide of support, one of the unionist seats would be lost. Sometimes when the tide comes in like that, you are washed away.  The reduction in seats favoured the big parties and they were able to convince people of their message.”

Thanking those who supported him throughout his career, Mr Kennedy said it had been “an honour” to serve the constituency since 1998 and – quoting former American politician Adlai E. Stevenson – ruefully added that he was “too tired to laugh and too old to cry”, as he faces a future away from the political caucus he has been a part of for more than four decades.