News

Poll battle lines drawn

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Poll battle lines drawn thumbnailA myriad of election posters appeared on practically every lamp post in upper Market Street and High Street, Omagh, yesterday morning (Tuesday), following Monday's election announcement.

WEST Tyrone is shaping up for what could prove to be a hectic six-week campaign as candidates swing into election mode following Monday's announcement that another Assembly election has been called for Thursday, March 2.

Sitting UUP MLA for West Tyrone, Ross Hussey, confirmed to the Tyrone Constitution yesterday (Tuesday) that he is likely to be the party's candidate although this depends on a selection convention this coming Friday. The other five current MLAs are in the running also, as well as several of last year's unsuccessful candidates making the total 10 at the time of going to press on Tuesday afternoon.

It is understood the same is true for the Fermanagh and South-Tyrone constituency where all eyes will focus on how current First Minister, Arlene Foster, will get on after less than a year in office.

This will be the second time voters will go to the polls in the space of a year, the only difference this time is the fact that each constituency will be returning five candidates instead of six. Many are predicting a 'last minute' scramble on election day for the final remaining West Tyrone seat, with the DUP and Sinn Fein parties confident of taking the majority of seats.

It has also emerged that approximately 10,000 names have been removed from the Electoral Register in Tyrone since last May's Assembly election across the three constituencies which cover West Tyrone, Mid Ulster and Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

This will be an election that will be fought on several levels. The outgoing administration has been disintegrated over recent weeks with claim and counter-claim over the handling of many issues such as the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, Nama, the Irish Language Act, the ability to work as a joint administration, mutual respect, transparency and of course one of the issues of the moment, Brexit.

Other issues that come to the fore is voter anger and apathy but there's no way of knowing how that will pan out between now and election day.

Matters came to a head on Monday when Sinn Féin failed to nominate a deputy first minister to replace the outgoing Martin McGuinness thereby causing the devolved Stormont institutions to collapse.

This snap election will see a fall in the number of Stormont seats from 108 to 90 and the loss of one seat in both West Tyrone and Fermanagh and South Tyrone. The number of MLAs has been cut in order to reduce the cost of politics.

Last May's election saw 18 candidates run in West Tyrone with Sinn Féin returning three MLAs while the DUP, UUP and SDLP secured one each. The speculation is growing as to which party will lose out now that that number has been reduced.

The DUP feel it can retain its seat. It is not clear yet whether they will run one or two candidates this time.The fact Sinn Féin has decided to run three instead of four candidates this time suggests vote management will be a priority for them. They would certainly see themselves returning two and, if their figures work out, all three but there is a school of thought that believes they could still be in the final shake up with the UUP and the SDLP for the fifth seat.

But all this comes with a cautionary note - last time there was a lower than usual turnout and a record number of candidates - this time quotas will be higher so it may be premature to draw to many conclusions at this early stage.

In Fermanagh and South Tyrone both the DUP and Sinn Féin secured two seats each with the UUP and SDLP the other two in the 13-candidate race. Here again the turnout at the polls dropped from the previous Assembly election. Last time the second Sinn Féin and the SDLP candidates were elected without reaching the quota. This time around both are expected to be vying for that fifth seat.

Ross Hussey's position and whether the UUP's sitting MLA will run this time in West Tyrone is still uncertain. He has given the impression he is going forward but there could be a few factors that might influence things.

"My own political future will be decided by a combination of things, my ongoing health problems and my need for two new knees so I am seriously considering my options before a meeting of my constituency association on Friday. Running is out, at best a dander but maybe rest might be the answer," he said.

West Tyrone DUP MLA., Tom Buchanan, said he could not confirm if the party would be running a second candidate. He said he did not believe the RHI scandal would be a factor affecting the DUP vote.

"I do hear there's a lot of anger from people on the ground from other politicians in Stormont but I have to be quite honest and say that as yet, I have never met that anger," said Mr Buchanan.

He also said he had not received any negative feedback about Arlene Foster's leadership of the party.

"I have got no negative feedback about it. I've been told to tell her to stand her ground and continue to lead the people and Northern Ireland forward. People want leadership and take on the hard issues. There's no doubt it, the RHI has been a scandal and caused concern but people want to see something done to address the issue rather than pulling the institutions down."

He added he was fairly confident the DUP would hold its seat in West Tyrone.

Michaela Boyle, Declan McAleer and Barry McElduff were selected at a packed Sinn Féin selection convention held in Omagh on Friday night. In a joint statement they also touched upon the DUP's role in the RHI scandal.

"The DUP has been actively working to undermine the principles of power sharing and partnership. The political institutions can only operate on the basis that they have credibility and they have zero credibility at the moment because of the actions of the DUP," the statement read.

 "The current crisis surrounding RHI has nothing to do with 'orange and green' politics. It is about doing the right thing for all citizens, who have potentially seen half a billion pounds of their money squandered as a result of DUP actions.

Meanwhile, the SDLP's Daniel McCrossan was first out of the traps with the election posters in the Omagh area on Monday evening closely followed by Sinn Féin.

He said he was glad the public will now have their say following the biggest scandal since devolution where £500 million of taxpayers money has been squandered on the botched RHI scheme.

"I will stand in this election, as I did in the previous two, to represent the best interests of the people of this constituency that have been let down for so long - the A5, the Omagh hospital and the DARD HQ jobs are just a few examples," he said.

Other candidates to throw their hat in the ring include previous runners from last May's election: Roger Lomas of the Conservative Party, independent Omagh based councillor, Sorcha McAnespy, Strabane-based independent, Corey French, Barry Brown, CISTA (Cannabis Is Safer Than Drugs) and Stephen Donnelly, Alliance Party.

Share

Subscribe to read full newspaper »

Send to a friend

Please complete the following form to inform a friend about this page.

In order to process your information we must ask you to enter the letters in the image into the box:

CAPTCHA Image play audio version Reload Image

* Mandatory field - please complete