Poll-topper Ennis pays tribute to her late mum

Poll-topper Ennis pays tribute to her late mum

11 May 2022

SINN Fein’s dominance of South Down politics continues.

At last week’s Assembly election, the party’s two candidates were elected on the first count after a phenomenal performance saw Sinead Ennis and Cathy Mason poll a total of 24,344 votes — an increase of 5,261 on Sinn Fein’s 2017 election performance.

Alliance’s Patrick Brown finally smashed through the election ceiling to secure a seat for the first time after almost causing a major upset five years ago when he came within a few hundred of votes of making it to Stormont.

The DUP’s Diane Forsythe made history when she became the area’s first female unionist MLA — seeing saw off the challenge of the TUV’s Harold McKee and Ulster Unionist Jill Macauley — with the SDLP’s Colin McGrath, who increased his vote, taking the fifth seat.

But it was as a bad election for the SDLP that once dominated the constituency with Karen McKevitt failing in her bad to retain the second seat previously held by Paula Bradley.

While SDLP officials will examine what went wrong, not just in South Down but in many other constituencies, it may never again hold two local Assembly seats as the Sinn Fein juggernaut inexorably rolls on and Alliance builds on its stunning electoral success.

As a result of the election, South Down is now represented by three women, with Ms Ennis topping the poll with huge haul of 14,381 votes — 4,125 more than 2017, while her running mate Cathy Mason, contesting her first Assembly election, polled 9,963 votes, sailing past the 9,159 quota.

An emotional Ms Ennis, who dedicated her hugely impressive win to her mum, Jacqueline, who passed away last year, described her as the “most dedicated republican activist she has ever known”.

Addressing jubilant party supporters at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast which hosted a lengthy two-day election count, Ms Ennis said her party went into the election with a positive message for real change.

“That’s what the people of South Down told us they wanted,” she said, warning that those suffering as a result of the cost of living crisis would not 

accept being “held to ransom by any party refusing to come back into the Executive because they don’t like the outcome of the democratic process.”

Mrs Mason, who has to quit her role as a Newry, Mourne and Down councillor as a result of her election, warned that unless the new Executive “was established without delay”, £334m 

sitting in Stormont could not be put back into the pockets of people to help them through the cost of living crisis.

She said increasing numbers of young people are voting for Sinn Fein and that others who may not have backed the party in the past did so at this election and it was was clear that there was “a real desire for change.”

A delighted Mr Brown said Alliance had made history by electing the constituency’s first liberal and progressive MLA and was now the third biggest in South Down and that it will be the “greatest honour of his life” to represent the area for the next five years.

Mr Brown added: “I am proud that we have focused on running an entirely positive campaign, securing Alliance as the third biggest party in the constituency. This is a monumental shift from the 500 or so votes we used to get when I first joined the party and I think it is a reflection of a changing Northern Ireland.”

Ms Forsythe said she was “absolutely delighted” that unionists in South Down had united behind her in what was an important election and that issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol are a concern for people and need to be addressed.

She added: “Unionism needs to unite and move forward with a common purpose. We are stronger together and a lot of work needs to be done to remove the Protocol and the issues around it. That is what we heard on the doors and it is what people want.”

Mr McGrath said voters have given a mandate for the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver on and that the “eyes of the world will now be watching to see it done”.

He added: “The social democratic and labour values which I espouse remain relevant today and this is evidenced in that my own vote increased once more.

“I remain committed to delivering on the issues which I brought to the doorsteps of South Down and am committed to the transformation of our health service and the Downe Hospital, the protection and enhancement of our education and youth services and seeing key infrastructure projects delivered in South Down.”