West Tyrone: Sinn Féin’s McElduff wins seat amid high nationalist turnout

SDLP’s weak performance possible indicator of party’s prospects in Assembly contest


Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff once said scoring a goal for Carrickmore in the GAA championship against Augher, Co Tyrone in 1988 was the greatest moment of his life.

But securing the Westminster seat formerly held by Sinn Féin veteran Pat Doherty is perhaps a greater achievement for the republican who won the general election in West Tyrone in the early hours of Friday morning.

The Stormont MLA benefited from West Tyrone’s high nationalist turnout (68.23 per cent) with 43,675 people going to the polls.

Mr McElduff, who had the support of Tyrone All-Ireland winning captain Peter Canavan, received 22,060 votes and was the undisputed winner in the largely nationalist area of rural Northern Ireland.

“Our message is this: no Brexit, don’t be taking us out of the European Union against our will, don’t be doing it. We will not accept any borders in Ireland,” he told Omagh Leisure Centre.

Like other Sinn Féin candidates, Mr McElduff contested the election on an anti-Brexit ticket, pledging to seek a special status for Northern Ireland when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

Democratic Unionist Tom Buchanan brought out the party’s core vote in the general election receiving 11,718 votes but it wasn’t enough as demographics dictate that the constituency cannot be won by a unionist.

West Tyrone is over 66 per cent Catholic and Mr Buchanan is old school DUP, a Free Presbyterian from the small village of Drumquin who is the area’s MLA and is opposed to same sex marriage.

However, Mr Buchanan outperformed the Ulster Unionist’s Alicia Clarke ensuring that his party now remains the dominant unionist party in West Tyrone. Newcomer Ms Clarke received 2,253 votes.

The SDLP’s Daniel McCrossan, a Stormont MLA, made little dent in the Sinn Féin vote receiving 5,635 votes and, like Ms Clarke, may now treat his performance this time as an indicator of his prospects in any future Assembly contest.

Alliance’s Stephen Donnelly is a student but already considered an election veteran having stood unsuccessfully in four previous elections. This time he picked up 1,000 votes.

Legalise cannabis campaigner Barry Brown, a one-time SDLP council candidate, polled 393 votes in an area which has the highest pro-cannabis legalisation vote in Northern Ireland. In 2015 he picked up 528 votes.

Mr Brown, who contested the election under the banner of Citizens Independent Social Thought Alliance, believes his core vote has expanded beyond cannabis smokers to those who feel strongly disaffected from the political system and sees his party as one that is the opposite of the DUP.

The Green Party’s Ciaran McClean, a former bricklayer, has been an energetic campaigner on environmental issues for more than 20 years, particularly against fracking and the proliferation of quarries in mid-Tyrone. He picked up 427 votes.

Recent Westminster elections

2010 – Pat Doherty (Sinn Féin) defeated DUP’s Tom Buchanan (18,050 votes to 7,365).

2015 – Mr Doherty beat Mr Buchanan (16,807 to 6,747).