Former First Minister faces challenge to replicate election success

Former First Minister Arlene Foster at the Titanic Centre in Belfast during last year's election count. The DUP leader will look to replicate her 2016 election success in March. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Gareth McKeown

Former First Minister Arlene Foster still has the backing of "many of her followers" in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, but a DUP representative has conceded the party is "probably going to take a kick" in the upcoming Assembly election.

The party has confirmed that both Arlene Foster and Maurice Morrow will again be the party candidates in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, but it remains to be seen whether the DUP can replicate the success of 2016.

The DUP leader has come under intense scrutiny over her role in the botched Renewable Heative Incentive scheme and resisted calls to step aside as First Minister before her removal from office after the resignation of Martin McGuinness.

In the May election last year Foster topped the poll with 8,801 first preference votes and, polling over 2,000 more first preference votes than her nearest challengers: Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew (6,614) and party colleague Morrow (6,602).

A DUP spokesman told the Fermanagh Herald newspaper this week that Mrs Foster was confident of retaining the seat she has held since 2013, but said there may be a voter backlash.

"She is feeling confident of success in her own area, but there is no denying that we as a party are probably going to take a kick, but nothing too dramatic," the spokesman said.

The editor of the Impartial Reporter Sarah Saunderson said the DUP leader will face "tough questions" on the doorsteps in relation to RHI.

"As shown by the poll last year, Arlene Foster has strong support in her home constituency. It remains to be seen if she can replicate that level of success this time around. She still has support from many of her followers here. She has always made a priority of being very visible in her local community, which has always been well received by those who have voted for her in the past," she told the Irish News

Sitting SDLP MLA and election candidate Richie McPhilips said people are "fed up" with the politicians in government.

"I know from talking to all shades of opinion I think the dissatisfaction is right across the community, in every aspect. There will be political parties who will be fearing what the election outcome may be here," the MLA added.

A source within the Ulster Unionist Party in Fermanagh said there remains "a bit of sympathy" in the county for Mrs Foster.

"I think it's getting far less though. I think these last couple of days it has been draining, but I do have to say I think in her home area it's very different to what it is elsewhere," they said.

"There are some people that are quite annoyed and are going to switch and you have others who are thinking why vote at all, so you have that apathy. She may lose some votes, but it's hard to know how many or how far the impact, " they added.

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