The SDLP are running 12 candidates in the May 22 election to the ABC Council – and sitting Craigavon council members Joe Nelson and Declan McAlinden are confident they can build upon the current nine in the existing three council areas.
The existing Craigavon Borough Council area will be the key to expanding, as just two SDLP councillors (Nelson from Lurgan and McAlinden of Loughside) made it in 2011.
There are just those two in Craigavon against eight Sinn Fein. Other areas are more evenly divided with two from each party in Banbridge District Council, and six SF against five SDLP in Armagh.
An important piece of the jigsaw is Eamon McNeill from Kilmore, currently an Armagh member, but fighting in the expanded Portadown ward this time, with the party having failed to win a single seat in the old Portadown ward.
But Mr McNeill is confident that the expansion into the rural Loughgall-Kilmore area could swing things in his favour in what was formerly a slice of the old ‘Orchard’ Ward in Armagh.
In Central, Declan McAlinden is partnering Thomas Larkham, while Joe Nelson will be one of three in Lurgan.
Neighbouring Cusher, which covers Tandragee, Richhill and Markethill, is likely to return popular former Lord Mayor Sharon Haughey, the only nationalist on the voting card. Ms Haughey is respected across the board and will almost certainly make it.
Said Mr Nelson, “We believe that people are fed up with Sinn Fein’s rather extreme politics and that the SDLP will benefit. Craigavon Borough Council has been sadly an extremist council, with the two major blocks (SF and DUP) dominating things. We feel the mood is changing and we anticipate gains.”
SDLP are running one in Portadown, two in Craigavon, three in Lurgan, one in Lagan River, two in Banbridge, two in Armagh and one on Cusher.
The present ration of the parties in 16-9 in favour of Sinn Fein through the current 65 seats in the three council areas which are being reduced to 41 seats.