Parties gear up for Westminster election
Parties gear up for Westminster election

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie has announced that she intends to seek her party’s nomination to stand in Eddie McGrady’s South Down seat in the Westminster election, when he took the seat from Ulster Unionist MP and former Conservative Enoch Powell.

A British general election is due to be called within the next two months.

Mr McGrady, who has been an elected representative for almost half a century, said he would stand down from the South Down seat he has held since 1987.

Mr Ritchie will compete for the South Down seat against Sinn Fein’s Caitriona Ruane, the Stormont Education Minister in the strongly nationalist constituency.

It will be the only constituency where two nationalist ministers will be up against each other in an election.

In the last Westminster election, Mr McGrady defeated Ms Ruane, winning 44.7 per cent of the vote compared to her 25.8 per cent.

While it would stili be a significant challenge for Sinn Fein to oust the SDLP from the seat, results of recent elections have shown that Sinn Fein support has grown substantially in the area.

A change in the electoral boundary, moving Ballynahinch to Strangford. could also weaken the SDLP vote.

Meanwhile, the Unionist Party and the British Conservatives have agreed on nine of the candidates who will fight the forthcoming Westminster elections under the joint banner of the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force (UCUNF).

The candidates include a former Irish rugby international Trevor Ringland, a former high-profile broadcaster, UTV news anchor Mike Nesbitt, and a successful impersonator of Freddy Mercury of Queen, ‘Flash’ Harry Hamilton.

North Down MP Sylvia Hermon, who has refused to stand under the UCUNF banner, said the decision was difficult and caused her a lot of sadness. Her decision effectively means that the Ulster Unionist Party has lost its only sitting MP.

It has still not been confirmed if she will stand in North Down as an Independent, where she would be expected to hold her seat comfortably.

It is understood discussions are still ongoing to find either unity candidates or to form an electoral pact between UCUNF and the DUP to contest the closely fought constituencies of Fermanagh/South Tyrone and South Belfast.

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