The news that Sinn Féin have selected Francie Molloy to contest the Mid Ulster election has surprised me …….and yet it shouldn’t. He was the only nominee.
I had assumed that the successor to Martin McGuinness would be Ian Milne, who lost out in the Assembly Election of 2011. So why Francie Molloy? Well he is a 61 year old Sinn Féin veteran who was much more “visible” ten or more years ago. In part this is explained by the fact that he is a Deputy Speaker at the Assembly and necessarily this takes him out of the more confrontational aspects of politics.
There is a geographical reason. McGuinness is of course based in Derry City. But his two Sinn Féin colleagues in Mid Ulster (Molloy and Michelle O’Neill) are both based in the Coalisland end of the constituency. Ian Milne, for example is from South Derry and would balance the ticket. It also makes sense for Sinn Féin to get another co-option into the Assembly.
Molloy (if elected) would be replaced in the Assembly Chair by Mitchel McLaughlin or Alex Maskey…well that who I see as front-runners.
Seemingly Ian McCrea (DUP) had a hard time with loyalists in Cookstown last night. And in the light of recent events UUP and DUP might run a single candidate to maximise the vote. It is not fertile ground for Alliance of course but they need to stand, to capitalise on the bounce they will get from the “Flegs” issue.
SDLP will run Patsy McGlone for whom I have a lot of time. Definitely one of the better politicians.
Sending Molloy (if elected) off to Westminster will make him even more invisible than he is now. Undoubtedly, Sinn Féin absentee MPs can do a lot of good constituency work without ever going near London. Yet it lowers their profile……and I think it will be hard for Michelle Gildernew, who has a majority of just four votes to hold on in Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
Is it really all about curbing the leadership ambitions of Conor Murphy? Surely not.