Tuesday 24 October 2017

High-profile politicians washed away by SF tide

Former Stormont minister Alex Attwood is a high profile loss to the SDLP Picture: PA
Former Stormont minister Alex Attwood is a high profile loss to the SDLP Picture: PA

Michael McHugh

Two former unionist and nationalist ministers have been "washed away" by the rising tide of Sinn Féin support.

Alex Attwood and Danny Kennedy have decades of political experience between them but failed to win re-election in a difficult night for some of the self-styled moderates.

Mr Kennedy was a minority unionist voice in the Newry and Armagh constituency which includes South Armagh and a former Regional Development minister at Stormont.

A massive swell in voting numbers largely favoured Sinn Féin.

"Sometimes when the tide comes in like that, you are washed away," Mr Kennedy said.

He is a senior Orangeman who once defied his organisation's ban on attending a Catholic Mass to go to the funeral of a murdered police officer.

Mr Attwood was a political Houdini who scraped into a seat repeatedly in the republican stronghold of west Belfast for the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

He was the first heavy hitter to go during an election in which the reduction in the number of Stormont seats from 108 to 90 made casualties inevitable.

He recently served as the Environment Minister and the Social Development Minister on the Northern Ireland Executive.

As a member of the SDLP talks team before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, he played a key negotiating role on policing, human rights and justice issues.

Mr Kennedy said the reduction in seats favoured the big parties.

"When that Sinn Féin tide came in, it was likely to sweep away one of the unionist seats and that happened," Mr Kennedy said.

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt last night announced his resignation from the post.

He had been the MLA for Strangford since 2011 and became party leader in 2012. Although he held on to his seat, a number of party colleagues lost theirs.

Irish Independent

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