West Tyrone MP by-election date still unknown

Sinn Féin's Barry McElduff resigned as West Tyrone MP following controversy over uploading online a video of himself balancing Kingsmill bread on his head on the anniversary of the Kingsmill atrocity
Brendan Hughes

THE date of the West Tyrone MP by-election has still not been confirmed nearly six weeks after the resignation of Sinn Féin's Barry McElduff.

Other Westminster by-elections in recent years have had their poll dates announced within days of the outgoing MP resigning.

An MP by-election is usually called when their party's chief whip moves a writ before the House of Commons.

Because Sinn Féin MPs do not take their seats, it usually falls on the governing party to move the writ.

However, when asked why this has not happened yet, the British government would only say this will be done "at an appropriate time".

It's believed the Tories may have delayed a potentially acrimonious by-election in the hope of the DUP and Sinn Féin first reaching an agreement on restoring the Stormont executive.

Mr McElduff resigned as West Tyrone MP after uploading online a video of himself balancing Kingsmill bread on his head on the anniversary of the Kingsmill atrocity.

The veteran Sinn Féin representative, who was initially suspended by his party, said he had not realised the connection but Kingsmill victims' relatives rejected his apology.

Because MPs cannot directly 'resign', they have to be appointed to a paid office of the Crown to automatically disqualify them from holding their seat.

Mr McElduff was on January 16 appointed 'Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds'.

When Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness resigned as MPs in 2011 and 2013 respectively, they were appointed to another position, 'Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead'.

Although Mr Adams resigned in January 2011, the writ was only moved on May 2011 and the by-election held in June that year.

It's expected that Sinn Féin will retain the West Tyrone seat, but it is unclear who will be the party's candidate.

Some political commentators have speculated that Sinn Féin could choose a "surprise candidate", perhaps from outside the constituency.

Last year solicitor John Finucane was unexpectedly chosen by the party to contest the North Belfast seat in June's snap Westminister election.

Although he lost out to DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, Mr Finucane has continued his involvement with Sinn Féin, and earlier this month spoke on stage at Sinn Féin's special ard fheis to formally propose Mary Lou McDonald as party president.

Asked yesterday whether he would be interested in the West Tyrone candidacy, Mr Finucane did not wish to be drawn on the matter.

Sinn Féin also did not respond to requests for a comment.

A by-election timetable is usually between 21 and 27 working days from the issuing of the writ, although it is at the discretion of the constituency's returning officer.

A British government spokesman said: "In the absence of Sinn Féin representation in parliament, there is precedent for the chief whip, at an appropriate time, to bring forward a motion in parliament asking the speaker to issue an election writ which will then trigger the by-election."

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