Sinn Féin may decide to opt for surprise candidate in West Tyrone by-election
SINN Féin could overlook its sitting MLAs as runners in the West Tyrone by-election if the party seeks a candidate with broad appeal.
Nationalist commentator Chris Donnelly has said he would not rule out a "surprise candidate" in the republican heartland, where in last June's general election the party secured more than half of the vote.
One possible name would be former Tyrone All-Ireland winning captain Peter Canavan, who was Barry McElduff's proposer for last March's assembly election.
The 46-year-old has previously rubbished reports linking him with vacant Sinn Féin seats.
In 2012, the PE teacher and then Fermanagh manager dismissed speculation that he would join the party's assembly team when four MLAs resigned their seats as it introduced new rules to end double jobbing.
The Irish News was unable to contact Mr Canavan last night.
Sinn Féin currently has three MLAs in West Tyrone – Michaela Boyle, Declan McAleer and Catherine Kelly.
Ms Kelly was co-opted when Mr McElduff succeeded Pat Doherty as the constituency's abstentionist MP last June.
While none of the trio has a high profile outside the constituency, the size of the party's Westminster majority suggests it does not require an especially strong candidate to retain the seat.
Mr Donnelly, a former Sinn Féin council candidate, described the outcome of the by-election as a "foregone conclusion".
"Ironically this is made all the more so by unionist efforts to seek a unity candidate to face off against whoever Sinn Féin decides to run – that is only likely to further galvanise support for the Sinn Féin candidate," he said.
"Whilst the party hierarchy may decide to move one of the three constituency MLAs into Westminster – as it did with Barry McElduff – I wouldn’t rule out Sinn Féin seeking a surprise candidate along the lines of its John Finucane candidacy in North Belfast, which proved so effective in rallying nationalists of all hues behind their campaign."
There is also an outside possibility of a cross-party anti-Brexit candidate running in the border constituency, where opposition to the UK's plans to leave the EU is strong.
However, the acrimonious circumstances that have triggered the by-election, coupled with the SDLP's unsuccessful efforts to run three non-aligned, pro-Remain candidates in last June's Westminster election, make the prospects remote.