Mid Ulster: Even without McGuinness, Sinn Féin likely to maintain grip
DUP’s decision to run two candidates unlikely to hurt UUP
The Northern Ireland Assembly election will take place on Thursday, May 5th. Each of the 18 constituencies – including Mid Ulster – will elect six Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
For the first time since the Belfast Agreement, Martin McGuinness will not be one of the candidates chasing votes in the Mid Ulster constituency, which lies between Lough Neagh in the east and the Sperrin Mountains in the west.
As has been the case since 1998, Sinn Féin comfortably took half of the six seats available at the Assembly election in 2011 – with the other three divided between the DUP, SDLP and UUP.
At the Westminster election last year, Sinn Féin’s Francie Molloy topped the poll with 48.7 per cent of the vote, and the UUP, through Sandra Overend, took 15.4 per cent, increasing its share by 4.4 per cent and overtaking the DUP in popularity for the first time since the 1997 local elections.
In the 2011 Assembly election, Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness, Mr Molloy and agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill won seats for Sinn Féin, while Ian McCrea was elected for the DUP, Patsy McGlone for the SDLP and Sandra Overend for the Ulster Unonists.
When Mr McGuinness announced in January he was standing in Foyle – rather than Mid Ulster where he has been an MLA since 1998 – the SDLP said the decision was a result of Sinn Féin’s concerns about the threat posed by its new, young leader, Colum Eastwood.
Sinn Féin dismissed this, saying it was aimed at helping the party win an extra seat in his home constituency, “where Martin’s heart is”.
He had moved initially from Foyle to Mid Ulster in 1997 because he could not challenge the strength of the SDLP in former leader John Hume’s stronghold, but the party seems confident they can get three rather than two candidates over the line this time.
In Mid Ulster it does not seem as if Sinn Féin’s dominant position in the constituency is under any threat.
SDLP veteran Patsy McGlone, the one-time SDLP chief press officer and an MLA for Mid Ulster since 2003, has close links to the local Gaelic sporting community and is well known throughout the constituency.
In 2011 he was elected with 5,065 votes, representing 11.9 per cent of the vote, but his running mate Austin Kelly only managed 1,214 and did not make it to Stormont.
This year, the SDLP is not running two candidates and Mr McGlone should be returned without difficulty.
How the constituency compares
Level: low. Rank: 18 of 18
Levels of poor health
Level: medium. Rank: 8 of 18
There has been much talk in the constituency of disquiet in the DUP.
Unlike in other constituencies, the DUP posters that appeared in Mid Ulster do not feature the two candidates’ names, or faces, and do not advise the electorate of the order to vote.
It was reported that the local association deselected the sitting MLA Ian McCrea – son of former Mid Ulster MP Rev William McCrea – but DUP leadership then reintroduced him as a candidate, but did not remove Keith Buchanan.
Alan Day is standing for Ukip. He received just 863 votes at the Westminster election last year and, like Hannah Loughrin of the TUV, he will be hoping to build party presence in the constituency, rather than having an expectation of being elected.
As was, appears to be the likely outcome in Mid Ulster.
The DUP has little hope of ousting outgoing Sandra Overend, as the UUP is well anchored in the constituency.
The SDLP and its veteran candidate Patsy McGlone also are sitting on a strong quota, based on previous elections. It looks like a safe bet that it will be the same as it has been since 1998.
Sinn Féin (3); DUP (1); UUP (1); SDLP (1).
Keith Alexander Buchanan (DUP)
Alan Day (Ukip)
Linda Dillon (Sinn Féin)
Néidín Hendron (Alliance)
Hannah Loughrin (TUV)
Ian McCrea (DUP)
Patsy McGlone (SDLP)
Ian Milne (Sinn Féin)
Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Féin)
Sandra Overend (UUP)
Hugh Scullion (Workers’ Party)
Stefan Taylor (Greens)