Assembly election: Fermanagh South Tyrone has added spice of RHI scandal

Marble Arch Caves in Fermanagh

In this border constituency you might imagine the impact of Brexit would be high on voters' list of priorities but it seems it's the usual divisive issues that are driving debate, with the added spice of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme and Arlene Foster's close association with the scandal.

Mrs Foster topped the poll in Fermanagh-South Tyrone last May, taking 8,801 first preference votes in her first election as DUP leader. How she performs this time in her home constituency will give a clear indication of how damaging RHI has been to her and her party. In all likelihood she'll be returned reasonably comfortably by an unwavering hardcore of supporters but it may not be such an easy ride for running mate Maurice Morrow.

The Ulster Unionists, who hold the Westminster seat courtesy of a pact with the DUP, will be hopeful that the public anger of recent weeks manifests itself in support for its sitting MLA Rosemary Barton, who is running as the party's sole candidate.

Many pundits believe the former teacher, who unlike party leader Mike Nesbitt has told voters to give their additional preferences to unionists first, is most at risk from the reduction in the number of available seats. But equally, the UUP is optimistic that it can enjoy a lift at the DUP's expense. The battle within unionism is the most intriguing aspect of this election and the absence of an Ulster Unionist MLA in the constituency after March 2 would prove awkward for the party's sitting MP Tom Elliot.

Sinn Féin made a complete hames of its candidate selection last year, running three conventions before finally securing the outcome its leadership desired. Arguably, it cost the party at the polls as the SDLP regained the assembly seat it had lost five years previous. There were no such shenanigans this time around and Sinn Féin has done its utmost to ensure gender balance and a good geographical spread across the north's most westerly constituency.

The party is running three candidates, two of whom are women, though surely with the reduction in the number of available seats, its focus will be on ensuring Sean Lynch and former agriculture minister Michelle Gildernew retain their place at Stormont. The early elimination of the SDLP's Richie McPhillips could see a third Sinn Féin candidate over the line, however, the former's supporters believe an increased quota will help their candidate to the detriment of Rosemary Barton because there will be fewer DUP surplus votes available.

Of the minor parties, the TUV performed best last May in what is regarded as a very conservative constituency. Alliance has made few inroads in this largely rural constituency where left wing candidates such as the Greens and NI Labour Representation Committee will struggle to reach a few hundred first preference votes.



Rosemary Barton (UUP)

Noreen Campbell (Alliance)

Jemma Dolan (Sinn Féin)

Richard Dunn (Conservatives)

Alex Elliott (Traditional Unionist Voice)

Arlene Foster (DUP)

Michelle Gildernew (Sinn Féin)

Tanya Jones (Green Party)

Seán Lynch (Sinn Féin)

Richie McPhillips (SDLP)

Maurice Morrow (DUP)

Donal O'Cofaigh (Cross Community Labour Alternative)

2016 Share of first preference votes

Sinn Féin 40%

DUP 32.7%

UUP 12.8%

SDLP 8.5%

TUV 2.5%

Green 1.9%

Alliance 1.1%

Others 2%

Number of seats

Sinn Féin 2




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