MP for a constituency with a unique history

 

In 1981 the constituency of Fermanagh-South Tyrone became the backdrop for the beginning of the republican evolution from an armed struggle to a political strategy.

A by-election in April of that year, as a result of the death of Frank Maguire, the Independent Nationalist MP, aroused worldwide interest when the leader of the IRA hunger-strikers in the Maze, Bobby Sands, stood as a candidate against the UUP's Harry West. The SDLP did not contest the election.

Standing under the banner of "Anti-H-Block", Sands secured a vote of 30,492, a winning margin of 1,446. He died a month later after 66 days on hunger-strike, the first of 10 republican prisoners to die as a result of their protest for political status in prison.

In the subsequent August by-election his election agent, a Sinn Fein member, Owen Carron, retained the seat. He defeated a member of Dungannon District Council, Ken Maginnis, by 2,230 votes in a six-cornered contest.

However, Maginnis wrested victory from Sinn Fein in the 1983 election and retained the seat in three subsequent general elections. His winning majority also doubled from 7,676 votes in 1983 to 14,113 in 1992.

Mr Maginnis yesterday stressed how his retention of the seat was an aberration for the electoral area. "Nobody this century, with the exception of myself, has held this seat for longer than about nine years," he said.

The constituency, comprising two large towns, Enniskillen and Dungannon, is a largely rural constituency and geographically the most westerly in the UK. Its boundaries stretch from Belleek in Fermanagh to Moy in Tyrone.

In the last election, 65,383 voters were registered to vote in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, which now divides roughly 50-50 between Catholic and Protestant residents.

The redrawing of constituency boundaries to create the constituency of West Tyrone between the 1992 and 1997 elections effectively removed a long-standing nationalist majority. The current even division is reflected in the party breakdown of six Assembly members returned for the area in 1998 Stormont elections.

Mr Tommy Gallagher of the SDLP was elected on the first count followed by Mr Sam Foster of the UUP. A second UUP candidate, Ms Joan Carson, and the current Minister of Social Development, Mr Maurice Morrow, a DUP member, also represent the area.

Sinn Fein returned two Assembly members in the elections and secured the highest percentage of the vote with 26.87 per cent. Members of the UUP in the constituency have been largely supportive of the party leader, Mr David Trimble.