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How the race is heating up in Co Armagh for one of the coldest General Elections in history

Polling station local elections

The General Election campaign is in its final throes for the candidates, and with less than 48 hours to go until polling day (December 12), we took a look at the race for the two seats up for grabs in Co Armagh.

The candidate lists have been confirmed, the manifestos launched, televised debates in full swing and a few lucky enough to have had that knock on their door, but who do you vote for?

Here is are low down on how the race is shaping up for both the Newry and Armagh and the Upper Bann seats.

The latter has historically been a Unionist seat, while the constituency of Newry and Armagh has subsequently become a natural Nationalist majority with Sinn Féin and the SDLP’s sharing 65% of the vote in 2017.

The seat was first taken by a Nationalist in the shape of former SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon in 1986 and he represented the constituency at Westminster for the best part of two decades.

In 2005, Sinn Fein won control of the seat through Conor Murphy before he was succeeded by party colleague Mickey Brady in 2015.

Brady had almost double the vote of the DUP’s William Irwin at the last election in 2017 and was some 16,000 votes ahead of the SDLP’s Justin McNulty.

In recent years, the Ulster Unionists have seen their share of the vote dwindle from Danny Kennedy’s 16,000-plus in 2015 to just 4,500 with Sam Nicholson as the candidate last time out. He will run again.

Mr Nicholson’s father Jim was the last Unionist to hold this seat and he recently retired after 30 years serving as an MEP in Brussels.

His son, Sam currently sits on the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council and would be keen to see a rise in his vote this time around.

Alliance have seen their vote steadily rise in the last few election campaigns, both locally and nationally, and their candidate Jackie Coade will want to carry on the party’s success in the recent council election.

There was an upsurge in voting for the party; on that occasion Ms Coade was unsuccessful, but Alliance managed to gain three representatives on the ABC Council.

New kids on the block are Aontu, who will be putting up a candidate in this constituency for the first time in the form of Martin Kelly, following their inception earlier this year.

The recently established all-Ireland party, will be looking to grow their reputation with them currently having one representative in the Dáil Éireann and five in the local government scene north and south of the border.

Meanwhile the other Co. Armagh seat, Upper Bann, has remained a solidly Unionist constituency with a significant Nationalist minority since its creation in 1983.

Originally held by the UUP’s Harold McCusker it was taken by David Trimble in a by-election in 1990 following Mr McCusker’s death.

Trimble, who went on to become leader of the UUP and First Minister of Northern Ireland, lost the seat to David Simpson of the DUP in 2005.

Simpson has held the seat since then, but has made the decision not to contest the seat this time around.

Last time out, Sinn Féin candidate John O’Dowd took second spot in the polls for the first time but still remained around 8,000 votes behind the DUP.

This was an increase from the mere 2,000 vote difference which Simpson had enjoyed over UUP candidate Jo-Anne Dobson in 2015.

O’Dowd will once more be trying to close the gap on the DUP but this time round his competitor comes in the form of the popular Carla Lockhart.

Lockhart is a former councillor for the area and has been an MLA for Upper Bann since the 2016 election. She could be  about to take a further step in her burgeoning career.

Representing the UUP for the second time for the Westminster seat is army veteran Doug Beattie.

Beattie was elected to Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District Council for the Portadown area during the 2014 council elections before he was elected an MLA in 2016, a position he holds to this day.

Last time out the Beattie saw a 5,000 vote drop from his predecessor and he will be looking to make up some of that ground this time around.

The candidate for the SDLP is Dolores Kelly, the former deputy leader and current MLA for Upper Bann did not contest the seat at the last general election but has done so many times in the past.

Kelly was elected to Northern Ireland Assembly for Upper Bann in 2013, she lost her seat in the 2016 Assembly Election but regained it in 2017, at the expense of Sinn Féin.

SDLP vote in this constituency has been falling in recent years, which could explain the rise of Sinn Fein in the area, but Kelly will be looking to pull back some of those numbers in this election.

The Alliance candidate for Upper Bann comes in the form of a new addition to the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District Council, Eóin Tennyson.

The party have seen a steady rise in their share of the vote in the last two decades, and as mentioned previously, they will want to follow on from the success of council elections.

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