sammymorse (sammymorse) wrote,

2007 Assembly Election Guide: Constituency No. 11 of 18 - Newry and Armagh

map 1
Maps by Conal Kelly and Nicholas Whyte

Newry and Armagh consists of the town of Newry, that part of Newry and Mourne District which lies in County Armagh, a total of 17 of Newry and Mourne district's 30 wards, and all of Armagh district. In other words, it consists of pretty much all of County Armagh, excepting the densely populated area around Lurgan and Portadown. It is unique among Northern Ireland's constituencies in containing two whole cities, albeit not very big ones.

Apart from these, its most important towns are Keady, Tandragee, Richhill, Loughgall, Markethill, Newtownhamilton, Bessbrook, Jonesborough and Crossmaglen. Often misnamed 'Newry and South Armagh', it in fact stretches north to within a mile or two of the M1 at Burnt Island. It has a number of landmarks well known to everyone in Northern Ireland - Armagh's two cathedrals, Newry, Ireland's newest city and the one with the lamest bypass, and of course Tandragee, home to Tayto crisps.

Newry and Armagh, the former in particular, are areas that people tend to associate with unemployment and low pay. While true to a certain extent, the local economy has improved beyond recognition in recent years. The constituency now has unemployment only slightly higher than the Northern Ireland average. Although it still lags behind most NI constituencies on economic indicators, it lies much closer to the average than it does to North and West Belfast and Foyle. School performance is close to the Northern Ireland average, and a noticeably higher than average number of young people stay on into further education.

There are, of course, pockets of deep poverty here - despite its transformation from a dreary pocket of economic depression to a booming retail and distribution centre, exactly half of Newry's census areas count among Northern Ireland's poorest fifth, with Ballybot particularly deprived. Most of Newry is covered by a Neighbourhood Renewal Area. Also in Northern Ireland's most deprived quintile are parts of Bessbrook, and the western part of South Armagh proper, around Crossmaglen, Cullyhanna and Silverbridge. However, the level of prosperity increases as one travels eastwards through Forkill and Jonesborough, before rising to approach the NI average along the Dublin road in Cloghogue and Killeen. Going north, again the level of prosperity gradually rises. Keady, Camlough and Newtownhamilton have somewhat higher than average levels of deprivation, although are hardly in the worst tier.

Most of Armagh district clusters around the average in economic statistics, with Richhill, Tangragee, Hamilton's Bawn and Armagh City's leafier lanes around the Newry Road and Barrack Hill being above average. None of these areas, however, can count among Northern Ireland's wealthiest. The one real economic blackspot in the North of the Constituency is Armagh City's Callanbridge Estate.

Demographically, Newry and Armagh has the highest fertility rate in Northern Ireland (2.08) although even that is just a smidgen below the replacement level of 2.1. There is, however, a huge disparity between different parts of the constituency. Even Armagh district has a higher fertility rate than the Northern Ireland average, although not enormously so (1.92 as opposed to 1.80). Newry itself must have the highest fertility rate of an urban area in Northern Ireland at just over 2.0. However, South Armagh stands out as the truely remarkable area, with most wards having a fertility rate over 2.5 and two having a fertility rate over 3.0. These figures are exceptional in modern European terms; South Armagh is the last place in Northern Ireland where there is birth rate outstrips replacement level, and the last place where the great Catholic baby boom of the '70s and '80s is still continuing.

Parallelling the general north-south gradient in wealth and demography, of course, is one of sectarian balance. None of the five wards making up the Slieve Gullion electoral area in the far south has a Protestant population reaching even 4%; ironically, Kenny Donaldson, Ulster Unionist candidate in Fermanagh & South Tyrone is one of this tiny minority. No Unionist candidate has even stood for a council election in Armagh's deep South since 1981. To this area can be added Camlough, and much of Newry Town, where a Protestant population now numbering less than 8% clusters around the town's northern fringe, and is now a clear minority even in Windsor Hill.

In South Armagh's Northern tier, around Bessbrook and Newtownhamilton, Catholics out number Protestants by about 2 to 1. In Armagh district, the split is more east:west, with Catholics being in a roughly two to one majority west of Armagh City and in the City itself, but in a minority of only 1 in 6 east of it.

These general patterns hide deeper segregation in the urban areas. The proportion of Catholics in the main towns and villages is as follows - Newry 92%, Armagh 68% (with working-class parts of the town definitely segregated, wealthier areas mixed), Keady 94%, Richhill 3%, Tandragee 11%, Crossmaglen 99%, Markethill 20%, Camlough 99%, Hamilton's Bawn 5%, Laurelvale 9% and Newtownhamilton 72%. The net effect of this is a constituency which is 67% Catholic and 32% Protestant - the fourth most Catholic constituency.

Nicholas Whyte's figures show a knife edge finish last time, with Sinn Féin's Patricia O'Rawe edging out the SDLP's Jim Lennon by the narrowest of margins for a gain. Net result: Sinn Féin 3, SDLP 1, UUP 1, DUP 1.

In a sign that counts don't have to be long to be exciting, just five stages here resulted in a virtual photo finish. O'Rawe finished the count exacly 600 votes ahead of Lennon, but Danny Kennedy's undistributed surplus of 578 would almost certainly have narrowed that gap to double figures and a tiny SDLP suprlus of 14 would have narrowed it further. Since then, three MLAs, two SF and one DUP, have been deselected by their parties and two are standing as Independents.

In Newry and Armagh, the two Unionist seats are easy to predict. The sole Ulster Unionist, Danny Kennedy is standing here for the third time in Assembly elections, and about the gazillionth time if you count Westminster and local elections, and is one of the UUP's more competent performers with a solid home base in The Fews. One easy hold for the Ulster Unionists. If he once again manages to get elected on the first count, his surplus may prove crucial in determining the destination of the final seat.

That means one seat will again be won by the Unionist right. Paul Berry has been deselected from the DUP after an unfortunate incident involving the Sunday World and a male 'masseur' and must stand as an indie to save his seat, while Willie Frazer will be repeating his independent candidature of 2003, this time with a distinctive platform: opposition to the St. Andrews Agreement.

I have serious doubts about Berry's capacity to get out of triple figures; while he undoubtedly has personal friends and supporters, he has yet to sensibly answer questions about that night in the Holiday Inn in Belfast. While what he is alleged to have done may not matter to me, it certainly would matter to most DUP voters in Armagh.

As far as Frazer goes, we know his base vote previous elections - a grand total of 632 in 2003, and 933 under the Ulster Independence label in 1998. While opposition to St.Andrews might propel his vote over 1000, I can't see him reaching the 2000 mark.

That should leave the DUP, who are running Armagh Deputy Mayor William Irwin, sitting pretty. Richhill-based Irwin has stood in The Orchard electoral area twice, failing to be elected in 2001, but topping the poll in 2005 (and incidentally turning just over 2 quotas into only 1 seat thanks to an astonishing episode of vote-hogging). Still, even at the height of the Berry scandal, the DUP were able to spread their wings in an area where Unionism was once dominated by the UUP, winning a seat in The Fews for the first time.

On the Nationalist side, things are much more complicated. Of the 4 seats, we can safely assume one has an SDLP name on it and two will go to Sinn Féin. The final seat will be a tossup between Sinn Féin, the SDLP and former SF MLA Davy Hyland.

As stated earlier, last time the margin between SF's third runner, Pat O'Rawe, and the SDLP's second runner, Jim Lennon, was only 599 votes, with 592 votes worth of undistributed surpluses in play, all overwhelmingly sympathetic to the SDLP.

On the 2005 Westminster figures, Sinn Féin outpolled the SDLP by 41.4% to 25.2%; the SDLP would need a much better transfer from Unionists in those circumstances to win their second seat back. Advantage Sinn Féin. But the local government elections on the same day gave SF a lead of 38.5% to 24.0%. Those are actually slightly better figures for the SDLP than 2003. Clearly, this fight isn't over.

The SDLP have selected a tight, strong, ticket, with Dominic Bradley, the sitting Newry-based MLA being joined by Sharon Haughey, who comes from the countryside near Keady, but represents the area around Tandragee and Markethill. Bradley is relatively strongly Nationalist, middle-aged, middle-class and male; Haughey is a young, bright female. It's a well balanced, tight, ticket.

Sinn Féin have a strong head of their ticket in South Armagh's Conor Murphy MP, potentially a future party leader, and he is joined by Keady based councillor Cathal Boylan and Mickey Brady, "Mr. Ballybot", from Newry. Boylan is a first term councillor from Keady but has a more established base through his previous involvement in an anti-Orange March residents' group in the town. Brady, on the other hand, is a former member of the Workers' Party who has only been a member of Sinn Féin for a few months. Whether this is a stroke of genius which will widen SF's appeal or a miscalculation which will enrage Stickie-hating old Republicans remains to be seen.

Sinn Féin deselected two sitting MLAs - Davy Hyland and Pat O'Rawe. Hyland did not take his decision lying down, and is now standing as an Independent, either making a principled stand against Sinn Féin's acceptance of the PSNI or opportunistically leaping on a bandwagon, depending on your point of view. Despite Sinn Féin attempts to dismiss Hyland, he has political pedigree here.

He topped the poll in council elections in Newry Town every time he stood for election there. And he's not the only prominent local Republican to leave the party, either. Both Pat McNamee, member of the 1998 Assembly and Jim McAllister, member of the 1982 Assembly and long standing Crossmaglen councillor, are publicly supporting him. While Adams has kept the bulk of the South Armagh IRA on board through masterful diplomacy and a certain amount of chutzpah, there's bound to be leakage, as much from ordinary SF voters who just don't like the direction of political travel as from big names.

How well can Hyland do? Let's look at the pre-ceasefire Sinn Féin vote as a guide at least to Hyland's relative strength. Armagh district is likely to be weak. SF usually only polled 8% or so there pre-ceasefire. The Bessbrook/Newtownhamilton and Newry areas are better, but not spectacular, with pre-ceasefire SF votes usually in the teens in percentage terms, on occasions even in to the low 20s in Newry. However, in the Slieve Gullion area which overs the heart of South Armagh, Sinn Féin consistently polled 40-odd percent. Hyland must get a big local vote in Newry Town and pull a big disaffected Republican vote in Slieve Gullion to stand a chance.

It's worth remembering this is not Belfast or East Tyrone. The SDLP outpolled Sinn Féin more often than not pre-ceasefire, even in Slieve Gullion. The ground isn't as fertile for dissidents here as in Mid Ulster or Fermanagh & South Tyrone, at least on paper. It's the peculiar circumstances of Sinn Féin's selection meeting and the tight battle between the SDLP and SF for the last seat in 2003 that leaves things looking very interesting.

With a three way battle for the last seat, it's hard set a winning post here in the way I did for dissidents in Mid Ulster and FST. However, 10% is probably enough to knock out one of the three Sinn Féin candidates, and if Murphy significantly exceeds the quota on the first count, even 7-8% might be enough. Could Hyland then win? He would depend on Sinn Féin transfers him favouring him heavily over the SDLP, which I can't see, and even up at the 12% mark he would struggle to beat well balanced SDLP candidates, given the latter's ability to attract UUP transfers.

That means Hyland probably needs a almost whole quota - 13.5% or so - to guarantee himself a seat. I can't see that. But even a couple of thousand votes might be enough to let the SDLP win back their second seat, if enough of them fail to transfer to Sinn Féin. Would Hyland consider that a result? I doubt it's exactly the result he's looking for. But he would probably still consider it a result.

Finishing off the ballot paper, Máire Hendron is another Greater Belfast Alliance councillor running in an area where she has roots; Arthur Morgan, who shares a name with the Sinn Féin TD from just over the border in Louth, is actually a locally based Green candidate from Newry. They will duke it out to avoid the wooden spoon.

2003 vote - SF 39.8%/2.79Q, SDLP 24.6%/1.72Q, DUP 18.1%/1.27Q, UUP 15.5%/1.08Q, Ind 1.3%/0.09Q, Alliance 0.7%/0.05Q.

Candidates - SF: Cathal BOYLAN, Mikey BRADY, Conor MURPHY*. SDLP: Dominic BRADLEY*, Sharon HAUGHEY. DUP: William IRWIN. UUP: Danny KENNEDY*. Alliance: Máire HENDRON. Green: Arthur MORGAN. Independents: Paul BERRY*, Willie FRAZER, Davy HYLAND*. (*=Sitting MLA)

Prediction: 2 SF, 2 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 UUP.
Tags: 2007 constituency profiles, assembly 2007, elections, northern ireland, politics

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