Sinn Féin in a strong position to retain West Tyrone seat

Newcomer Órfhlaith Begley expected to succeed controversial former MP Barry McElduff

Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff resigned in January after   a video  with a loaf of Kingsmill-brand bread on his head was shared on the 42nd anniversary of the massacre of the same name. File photograph: Barry McElduff/Twitter/PA Wire

Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff resigned in January after a video with a loaf of Kingsmill-brand bread on his head was shared on the 42nd anniversary of the massacre of the same name. File photograph: Barry McElduff/Twitter/PA Wire

 

Voters in West Tyrone are back at the polls on Thursday, for the fifth time in two years, as the constituency chooses a new MP.

The previous incumbent, Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff, resigned in January after widespread condemnation of a controversial Twitter post.

The post of a video of the former MP with a loaf of Kingsmill-brand bread on his head was shared on the 42nd anniversary of the massacre of the same name, in which the IRA killed 10 Protestant textile workers in south Armagh.

McElduff was elected with more than 50 per cent of the vote, so even if the party’s vote dips in the aftermath of the Kingsmill controversy, Sinn Féin can afford to be confident.

A large, predominantly rural constituency, West Tyrone includes the towns of Omagh and Strabane and has a two-thirds Catholic majority.

Major issues include infrastructure and concerns over the potential impact of Brexit.

It has a long border with the Republic, and in the 2016 Brexit referendum returned a 69 per cent vote in favour of Remain.

Sinn Féin candidate in the West Tyrone byelection, Órfhlaith Begley (26), who is standing for election for the first time. File photograph: Órfhlaith Begley/Twitter
Sinn Féin candidate in the West Tyrone byelection, Órfhlaith Begley (26), who is standing for election for the first time. File photograph: Órfhlaith Begley/Twitter

The Sinn Féin candidate is 26-year-old lawyer Órfhlaith Begley, who is standing for election for the first time.

The main challengers are Daniel McCrossan of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)’s Tom Buchanan.

A long-standing MLA, Buchanan came runner-up to McElduff last time around, though with just under 12,000 votes to Sinn Féin’s 22,000.

May be more attractive

Fellow West Tyrone MLA McCrossan may be more attractive to nationalist voters seeking an alternative to Sinn Féin – as well as Remainers who want a candidate who will take their seat in Westminster – though with a vote of only 5,635 in 2017, he has substantial ground to make up.

With the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and Alliance also standing, it appears unlikely that any one candidate can amass sufficient votes to challenge Sinn Féin.

CANDIDATE LIST:

Alliance: Stephen Donnelly

DUP: Tom Buchanan

SDLP: Daniel McCrossan

Sinn Féin: Órfhlaith Begley

UUP: Chris Smyth

Prediction: Órfhlaith Begley (SF)