South Down was yet another constituency where Alliance gained at the expense of the middle ground.
Patrick Brown – a PhD student at Queen’s University, Belfast and an Alliance councillor in Ards and North Down – “made history”, as he said in his acceptance speech, by taking Alliance’s first ever seat in the constituency.
Securing Alliance as the third-biggest party in the constituency was, he said, a “monumental shift from the 500 or so votes we used to get when I first joined the party, and I think it’s a reflection of a changing Northern Ireland”.
Sinn Féin was the only party to take two seats, with both outgoing MLA Sinéad Ennis and her running mate Cathy Mason securing election on the first count, Ennis with a whopping 14,381 first-preference votes.
Along with her party colleagues in other constituencies, in her acceptance speech she emphasised the need for the DUP to return to the Executive post-election, saying that voters in South Down wanted “action to tackle the real issues that workers and families are dealing with”.
“They cannot and will not be held to ransom by any party refusing to go back into the Executive because they don’t like the outcome of the democratic process,” she said.
Much of the focus in this constituency prior to the election was on internal wrangling in the DUP over the choice of candidate. The outgoing minister for agriculture, Edwin Poots – who was in the event elected in south Belfast – failed to win the party’s nomination in this constituency, with party backing instead going to Diane Forsythe.
Days before the election, the DUP referred to the police “misogynistic” and “outrageously offensive” material which had been circulated about Ms Forsythe – and which it said was an attempt to bully a young female candidate.
In her acceptance speech, Ms Forsythe referred to a “challenging” election campaign, but appealed to unionist unity and said this had delivered “a really positive result”.
“We’re a minority in South Down in unionism, and we just really need to stick together,” she added.
The losers in South Down were the SDLP, who previously held two seats in this constituency. This time only one SDLP representative, outgoing MLA and health spokesperson Colin McGrath, was returned, leaving Foyle the only constituency where the SDLP holds more than one seat.