Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

2015 Westminster Election 2015 Newry/Armagh

With just 17 days until polling day, The Examiner continues with its series of profiles of the Newry and Armagh Westminster candidates vying for your vote in what has been mooted as one of the most interesting election races to date

This week we speak to Newry and Armagh Westminster candidate Danny Kennedy, the current UUP Regional Development Minister whose political career spans some 30 years.  The ex Newry High School pupil and native Bessbrook man has been a member of The Northern Ireland Assembly since 1998. He previously chaired the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee on Education and was the Deputy Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party from 2005 to 2010. He has served at all levels, both locally as a Newry and Mourne Councillor and within the wider party organisation of the UUP which he joined in 1974. The 55 year old ran unsuccessfully for the UUP in the Westminster election in 1997, impressively polling over 18,000 votes against former SDLP MP Seamus Mallon.

Mr Kennedy became the sole Unionist candidate for Newry and Armagh following an election pact struck with the DUP which means a single candidate from the two parties is running for the Westminster seat in four constituencies in Northern Ireland. The pact is a bid to boost the party’s chances against the nationalist majority in the constituencies of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Newry and Armagh, and North Belfast and to win the seat back from Alliance in East Belfast.

Speaking to The Examiner about the Unionist pact, Mr Kennedy says he believes there is “a clear desire” amongst the Unionist electorate for a single Unionist candidate to stand in the Westminster election.

“I am acutely aware that voters across Newry & Armagh are fed up with having no representation at Westminster as a consequence of Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy and they are particularly conscious of the impact this is having on the ability of their constituency to attract inward investment and to protect vital services in the area when there is no voice within the House of Commons to fight their corner on such important issues,” he says.

“So I believe that I have a wider appeal to the entire electorate of Newry & Armagh and can represent everyone in a fair and balanced way.”

With canvassing around homes and businesses throughout Newry and Armagh now in full swing, the Unionist candidate describes the reaction on the doorsteps as “extremely positive” and believes people are aware that this election in particular represents “a real chance for change.”

“I have been actively canvassing within the local constituency over a number of weeks and the reaction on the doorsteps has been extremely positive,” he says

“There is a real chance for change at this election, for voters to ensure that they have a full time Member of Parliament who will take his seat at Westminster, representing the views of all constituents in a balanced and fair manner.

“I sense from speaking to people as I make my way through the constituency that there is an appetite for change, they want a representative who will commit to helping shape a positive future for everyone and I am firmly committed to offering such representation if elected on 7th May.”

“The state of the local health service, funding cuts in education and the ongoing impasse with regard to welfare, particularly in terms of the impact this is having on the institutions at Stormont” are all prevalent issues amongst constituents Kennedy has engaged with over the last number of weeks and he feels they are issues which should be fought for by giving Newry and Armagh a “voice in Westminster.”

“The key issue at this Election is how this constituency is to be represented at Westminster,” he insists.

“It is time that the voice of all of the constituents of Newry & Armagh is heard again in the House of Commons.  No longer can we tolerate a situation where the member elected to Parliament refuses to participate in debates in the Chamber or actively work the Committee system and I give a resolute assurance to the electorate that I will be fully committed to serving their needs in a positive fashion.”

The UUP MLA vows to “promote this constituency actively on the floor of the House of Commons, working to achieve greater economic opportunities and collaborating with colleagues working in the Assembly, Executive and Local Government.”

With regards to the ongoing controversy over Welfare Reform he says,

“The Ulster Unionist Party has taken a responsible attitude towards the implementation of the Welfare Reform Bill and has ensured by the tabling of a number of amendments to this Bill the delivery of a new system supporting people with disabilities that will now be much more targeted and effective than what was originally proposed.

“The Ulster Unionist Party proposed a series of practical and cost effective measures which sought to make the Welfare Reform Bill fairer for those who are vulnerable in our society and to improve the effectiveness of the roll-out of the new benefits.”

Describing Sinn Fein’s decision to withdraw their support for the Welfare Reform Bill as “absurd”, Mr Kennedy adds,

“They appear to be pursuing a form of welfare system which we simply cannot afford, whilst at the same time expecting public services to bear the brunt of fines.

“They need to recognise the reality of the situation very quickly given the impact this is placing on the Institutions at Stormont or admit that they do not have the political or financial capacity to govern.”

The UUP candidate has been vociferous in the past in his condemnation of the scourge of fuel laundering and toxic waste dumping throughout South Armagh and says he strongly believes “the only way this form of criminal activity will be eradicated is through the full force of the law being prescribed against those individuals committing such crime.”

“The PSNI and HMRC must be provided with necessary resources in the South Armagh area to combat this crime and these agencies need to be backed up through the Court system. Up until now the sentences handed down to those found guilty of such crimes have been pathetic and totally ineffective and it is necessary that heavy sentences are imposed against those perpetrating this activity.”

Reiterating his pledge to represent the people of Newry and Armagh in a “fair and responsible way” the Westminster hopeful believes what sets him apart from other candidates is  “the experience I have gained as a public representative over 30 years – I have represented people in a fair and balanced manner.”

“I am passionate about promoting this area in a positive manner and this needs to be done in Westminster.”