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Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle may overrule Michelle Gildernew deselection

Michelle Gildernew with Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams at last year's Westminster manifesto launch. Picture by Ann McManus.

Sinn Féin's ruling executive may yet overturn the vote that saw former Stormont agriculture minister Michelle Gildernew fail to get selected to run in May's assembly election .

The party's ard chomhairle is due to meet on Saturday February 13 to ratify the result of Sunday's Fermanagh-South Tyrone selection convention but party sources have indicated that the outcome is far from a formality.

There was surprise both within and outside Sinn Féin at Sunday's vote, which was called after the ard chomhairle ruled a previous result void .

In the first selection convention before Christmas, delegates chose Ms Gildernew, alongside sitting MLA Sean Lynch and Councillor John Feeley. However, that meant assembly member Phil Flanagan was deselected. It was widely believed Mr Flanagan had paid the price for a series of social media indiscretions, including one tweet for which he was successfully sued by former Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliot.

But Sinn Féin headquarters ordered a rerun of the selection convention after an apparent anomaly between the number of delegates and the votes cast.

Sitting Fermanagh-South Tyrone MLA Bronwyn McGahan joined the four existing candidates in Sunday's selection convention, despite previously signalling that she was standing down.

Second time around Mr Flanagan was selected alongside Mr Lynch and Mr Feeley – ousting one of Sinn Féin's most high profile female representatives

In the 2011 assembly election, Ms Gildernew, who was then the Fermanagh-South Tyrone MP, polled nearly twice as many first preference votes as both her fellow Sinn Féin candidates. Her failure to get selected is seen as a double blow because the remaining candidates are not only all men, they also are Fermanagh-based in a constituency that takes in a large swathe of Ms Gildernew's home county of Tyrone.

Sunday's shock result is understood to have left the former farms minister considering her future political career.

She has already ruled out switching to another constituency.

But one senior Sinn Féin source has told The Irish News that the party's ard chomhairle is unlikely to ratify the Fermanagh-South Tyrone result.

"I can't see them okaying this given how unpopular the outcome is proving," the source said.

"Returning three MLAs in this constituency is already a challenge but with three Fermanagh men running and no Michelle it'll be almost impossible."

Ms Gildernew was unavailable for comment yesterday. A Sinn Féin spokesman said ratification of the result was a matter for the ard chomhairle.

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