Sinn Féin’s decision to run two candidates in the Midlands North West constituency should be no great surprise, given how well it is polling in the south at present. However, few predicted the party would parachute in sitting Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew. It suggests two possibilities – a paucity of suitable candidates in the constituency or a conscious effort by the party to lift the profile of one of its best known elected representatives, who has been relatively quiet in recent years.
Sinn Féin is keen to highlight Ms Gildernew’s role as Stormont agriculture minister in what is a largely rural constituency, even though it’ll be 14 years in May since she served at Dundonald House. After she left the executive it’s understood relations between the Dungannon-born MP and senior members of her party were strained, however, any ill-feeling has since dissipated and she is now very much ‘one of the republican family’, serving on the Sinn Féin ard chomhairle.
The former minister has still to get through the nomination process but we can assume that because press releases announcing her plan were issued through the Sinn Féin press office, she has the necessary party support. Taking two seats will be a challenge for Sinn Féin and it’ll be interesting to see which one the two candidates is regarded as the strongest. Should she be returned to the European Parliament, Ms Gildernew will not seek the nomination to stand again for Westminster. If she resigns the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat, a by-election is unlikely so close to an anticipated general election.