Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Re-elected Brady pledges push for border poll

by  Diarmúid Pepper

Contrary to several other constituencies across the north, there was no change to the outcome of Thursday’s Westminster election result in Newry/Armagh where Sinn Fein’s Mickey Brady was re-elected as MP, polling more than 9,000 votes over his nearest rival. 

While his share of the vote was considerably reduced, from 48% down to 40%, he was nevertheless returned with a very healthy majority of 9,287.

Brady’s nearest rival was William Irwin of the DUP, with the SDLP’s Pete Byrne taking up third spot. 

South Down also returned Sinn Féin’s Chris Hazzard to his seat. His share of the vote was also down 7.5% to 32.4%. 

Hazzard had a much slimmer majority, beating the SDLP’s Michael Savage with a majority of 1,620.

A triumphant Mickey Brady said that his re-election sent the message that Newry and Armagh rejects Brexit.

Sinn Féin’s Mickey Brady is re-elected as MP for Newry/Armagh with a majority of more than 9,000.

He said: “The remain parties are in the ascendency. Brexit, as far as we are concerned, is a non-runner.”

It’s a sentiment that isn’t shared by many following Boris Johnson’s huge electoral win.

Johnson now presides over the largest Tory majority since Margaret Thatcher, comfortably defeating Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.

On the morning after the election, Boris Johnson addressed supporters after the rampant success of the night before.

To the adorning crowd, he said: “We did it! A new dawn rises on a new government, and with this mandate and this majority we will at last be able to do what?”

“Get Brexit done!” was the response. 

“You have paid attention,” was the reply from Boris Johnson. “I want everyone to go about their Christmas preparations happy and secure in the knowledge that the work is now being stepped up,” added Johnson.

Indeed, the work to “get Brexit done” is already being stepped up. There is the possibility of the House of Commons sitting on the Saturday before Christmas and the House of Lords sitting between Christmas and New Year in an attempt to push through Brexit legislation. 

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has offered his best wishes to Boris Johnson and is keen to find a way forward. 

On Friday afternoon, he said: “The EU is ready to start as soon as possible the new negotiations we need to build a strong partnership with the UK.”

The EU’s Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhostadt, sent out a similar message, tweeting: “Brexit will now happen. It is in our common interest.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also welcomed the result and said that the “decisive outcome is a positive thing”.

He added that there is now a “clear majority to ratify the Brexit withdrawal agreement”. 

Varadkar also said that the results point to a “tectonic” shift in Northern Ireland politics.

For the first time in Northern Ireland, more nationalists have been elected to the House of Commons than unionists.

Sinn Féin kept its seven MPs, the SDLP won two, the DUP dropped two to eight and the Alliance Party took one.

One of the DUP’s dropped seats came at the expense of its Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds.  He lost his North Belfast seat to Sinn Féin’s John Finucane. This loss will be particularly bruising to the DUP.

North Belfast was the seat of Edward Carson, the father of unionism who brought about the creation of Northern Ireland. Never before has North Belfast been held by a nationalist MP.

And it was more bad news for the DUP in South Belfast, with the SDLP’s Claire Hanna taking the seat with a majority of 15,401. 

In Foyle the SDLP had more good news, with its leader Colm Eastwood romping home to victory. 

In the 2017 election, Sinn Fein’s Elisha McCallion pulled off a big victory with a majority of less than 200 votes. On Thursday night, Colm Eastwood boasted a majority of 17,110. 

The other big shock came in the North Down constituency. It had long been held by Sylvia Hermon, who stepped down ahead of this election. The Alliance party enjoyed a 36% vote swing in North Down which seen Stephen Farry elected. 

In some quarters, Thursday’s election results are seen as bolstering the argument for a Border Poll in the north and an Independence Referendum in Scotland. 

Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP certainly has a big claim to an Independence Referendum. The SNP won 48 of Scotland’s 59 constituencies; she also ran on a pro-independence ticket and has already clashed with Boris Johnson over her want for a second Independence Referendum.

Speaking after his win, Mickey Brady said from the podium: “Unity is no longer an aspiration: it is a project.”

However, Sinn Féin’s arguments for a Border Poll are arguably less strong. John Finucane beat Nigel Dodds in North Belfast but Finucane assured voters that a vote for him wasn’t a vote to reject the Union. And while there may be more Nationalist than Unionist MPs, Sinn Féin’s share of the vote was down almost 7%.   

Attention will now shift from Westminster to Stormont, which has been suspended for almost three years. 

Speaking after the historic election, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald insisted that power-sharing can be restored in the coming weeks.  

Boris Johnson’s huge majority makes superfluous the role for the DUP in Westminster and Mary Lou McDonald says that this is good news for the north:

“The silver lining on the cloud that is Boris Johnson’s huge majority is that it brings to an end the DUP/Tory confidence and supply arrangement. That caused the DUP to be absolutely fixated with the melodrama in Westminster. 

“I hope that the DUP will now join with the rest of us to fix the real democratic deficit that there is in our politics in Belfast.”