Westminster Election 2015: Fermanagh-South Tyrone

The Result:


A surprise. Even a shock.

In 2010, Sinn Féin won with a majority of just four votes. Tactical voting by SDLP voters saw them defeat a unionist “unity” candidate.  I was actually in London for the 2010 Results, flying out just after voting. By lunch time on Friday, there had been overnight recounts and I only knew the result about 3.30pm, in an Internet cafe in Queensway.

Although I would have voted SDLP in 2010, I felt a sense of relief that Michelle Gildernew had defeated a pan-unionist pact.

So why was it that….last week….. at 6.30am on a train with with wifi connexion, I was completely indifferent to the fact that Tom Elliott (UUP) had just defeated Michelle Gildernew by over 500 votes. After all, UUP and DUP had entered into a blatant sectarian pact.

Worse “Lord” Morrow of DUP had been dismissive of Michelle Gildernew as the “girl from the Brantry”.

In part, the difference between 2010 and 2015 is that I am actually a member of SDLP. But I dont think it entirely explains it. After all, fewer people voted SDLP (John Coyle) than voted SDLP (Fearghal McKinney) in 2010.

A lot of nationalist voters stayed at home. They were indifferent to the result. Phil Flanagan MLA of Sinn Féin have resorted to blaming the SDLP for standing. An odd stance, particuarly as Phil was (to his credit) unhappy at online bullying of SDLP candidate, John Coyle.

The online bullying continued after the Election.


Barry Doherty…a Sinn Féin councillor ….has since apologised for this Facebook post.

But Fermanagh-South Tyrone shows up one Sinn Féin problem….loss of manners. And a contempt for those standing for SDLP and people voting SDLP. Worth remembering when they want to “borrow a vote”.

And Fermanagh-South Tyrone shows up another Sinn Féin problem. Lack of political awareness. They were in Fantasy Land. Michelle Gildernew had won by just four votes against a single unionist candidate in 2010. The SDLP had not polled well. The candidate Fearghal McKinney deemed to be a celebrity (TV journalist) imported from Belfast.I

Sinn Féin thought that with better Demographics in 2015, Michelle Gildernew was safe. She lost by over 500 votes. Nationalists did not show up at the polling booth. For public consumption, Sinn Féin will be blaming SDLP but really their internal post-mortem wont mention SDLP.

Incumbency is a big asset. Sinn Féin have lost it. And wont be regaining that seat for a long long time. Nationalist voters will be free to vote, without the call to tribal loyalty.

What about 2016? Well, a look at the 2015 figures would say three Sinn Féin seats and three unionist. But that doesnt take account of those non-voters, loaned votes, the loss of Sinn Féin invincibility, the dignity of John Coyle, the transfer potential of Green and Alliance votes and the 2014 Council Election results which were a welcome piece of good news for SDLP.

This is a constituency I am extremely optimistic about. No doubt tweets and Facebook posts showing the nastier side of Sinn Féin will feature strongly at Council meetings, newspaper reports and hopefully in election literature next year.

Sinn Féin lost Fermanagh-South Tyrone….ironically …thru Abstention. Their principle on not attending Westminster backfired against an Electorate who decided to abstain. Policy (Welfare Cuts) played a part. But there was an arrogance….a swagger. SF simply miscalculated. For years they have not made mistakes or did not get punished for those they did make. In 2015, they stopped being lucky.

Hubris. Karma. Schadenfreude.

What goes round comes round.

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14 Responses to Westminster Election 2015: Fermanagh-South Tyrone

  1. John McMahon says:

    The lack of manners of some Sinn Fein supporters is probably a factor but lack of manners from young university-educated Sinn Fein supporters is nothing new. The Sinn Fein policy of absenteeism is probably also a factor.

    I am sorry you have failed to mention what is probably the main factor – Sinn Fein taking Catholics for granted – just as, in the 1970s, the Stickies did so and left themselves unelectable – just as, a decade later, the SDLP did so and spent its time acting as spokespersons for Eire governments rather than articulating the gut feelings of Ulster Catholics. Who can forget Sean Farren, a blow-in from Dublin and then Chairman of the SDLP, boasting “The SDLP is not, and will not become, a tribal party.” If the SDLP would not provide tribal leadership, why should it have continued to receive tribal loyalty?

    Sinn Fein have been hi-jacked by lefties lunatics who seem to be determined to alienate practising Catholics.

    There is their support for immigration – and for spending scarce public money pandering to immigrants. We hear a lot from Sinn Fein about austerity. The main source of austerity for working class people who are working is competition from immigrant labour.

    There is Sinn Fein’s support for compelling Catholic schools to employ anti-Catholics which would render Catholic schools unable to function as Catholic schools.

    There is Sinn Fein’s opposition to a Conscience Clause which would protect non-Gays from Gay bullies who seem to think that they have a right and possibly even a duty to shout down anyone who disapproves of homosexuality.

    There is Sinn Fein’s persistent interference in foreign countries – Columbia, Ski Lanka, Palestine, South Africa, Vietnam, Iraq, Libya. If, anywhere in the world, two flies on a wall have a fight, that shower in Connolly House seem to suffer from a compulsive urge to reach for their pens or a microphone to explain to why one of the flies is right and the other fly is wrong.

    And Sinn Fein has alienated many Catholics by their support for abortion.

    To top it all there has been Declan Kearney and his “Unionist Outreach” project. I really do wish that Declan would shove his Unionist Outreach up an appropriate part of his anatomy.

    I did not vote in the recent election. This has been the first time I have abstained. I have been voting Sinn Fein since 1982.

    • At the very first Press Conference the SDLP ever had, the question was asked “are the SDLP non sectarian?”
      My recollection is that Paddy Devlin replied ” we are ANTI sectarian”.
      This is of course a much stronger statement than merely being non sectarian.
      Sean Farren merely emphasised the point.
      It is offensive to Republicans or those striving to live in a Republic that a Church …including a Church of which many republicans are active members…would have primacy over the democratic will of ALL of the people.
      Attempts to establish a “Catholic Party” in Ireland is not given serious consideration by any serious Catholics including the Catholic Hierarchy.
      Thankfully the 2011 “Catholic” candidates in An Dâil election were heavily defeated.
      There will always be extreme Catholics for whom Republicans are satanic as the first republicans were led by Lucifer himself.
      But really such Catholic dogma is on the outer reaches of Sanity….along with the Divine Right of Kings, Tridentine Rite, Laudabiliter….and best left to French monarchists and Jacobite lunatics.
      They havent gone away ya know.

      • John McMahon says:

        Sinn Fein have been more than non-Catholic. They have become anti-Catholic. Trying to impose pro-Gay behaviour on anti-Gays is a step too far. Trying to deny Catholics the right to have their children taught by practising Catholics is another step too far.

        A party which tries to advance a united Ireland by selling out the Catholic people of Northern Ireland is going to have trouble appealing to all Catholics – and will eventually have difficulty getting the support of most Catholics. Sinn Fein does not seem to have learned from the fate of the Stickies.

        YOU are a Nationalist and a Socialist and that is your right. That does not mean that all Catholics are nationalists or socialists.

      • Nor does it mean that nationalists, republicans and socialists are anti-Catholic

  2. Caoimhín says:


    Are you optimistic about the prospects of the SDLP in this seat or those of Nationalism? Which is more important?

    To be quite honest I couldn’t give a fig which Nationalist party comes out on top in any contest so long as the Nationalist ideal is advanced. I’m not sure us tearing strips of each other is the best way to achieve that.

    • I very rarely tear strips off a nationalist/republican/socialist party. I think SF behaved badly in Fermanagh-South Tyrone (and other places) and I am indifferent to their loss. I wont gloat.
      I think that talk years ago about Four nationalist seats in Fermanagh-South Tyrone seem a bilt unlikely now. Too many nationalists stayed away.
      Of course Assembly is a different campaign.
      I am (some) confidence SDLP can regain a seat there.
      The big problem is the size of the constituency and no office (as far as I know).

  3. KenFerm says:

    An interesting set of analysis that you’re putting together. Perhaps the SDLP should equip you with a motor home and set you off to spend some time in each constituency; to absorb the feel and the underlying personal and tribal eddies at play. Combined with access to, and support from, a gang of ‘number crunchers’ your analysis would be much more nuanced and dare I say, be more enriched. The roving SDLP analyst…

    I would agree that there is definitely potential for an SDLP MLA in our gentle and pleasant part of the world. You have good grounds for optimism, but not unduly so, for I think the SDLP would need to wage and execute a good game plan to realise that optimistic potential. There are a number of points that could upset and spoil the plan.

    It will be interesting, and telling, how most people react to the SDLP’s role in losing the seat. For some it will harden their hearts; others will think, without rancour, that the SDLP is finished. Those who bothered to vote for Michelle will look askance in varying degrees at the SDLP. A lot I guess (and it’s just that, a guess) will wearily shrug their shoulders. As a party stalwart you may be heartened that the chilling effect will not be lasting, however as a politico whose interest lies in nationalism it should concern you.

    The SDLP’s choice of candidate, the base they have in their own area and the regard in which they are generally held is particularly important in such a rural place. The presumption being that John is the selected SDLP flag bearer and that his candidature served as means of raising his profile, that is now a double edged sword. Ideally the SDLP candidate would be young, articulate and being able to impart a passionate, positive message of hope for a better, and more harmonious, future for the nationalist people. I don’t know John personally but from family connections he is seen as a good, steady guy. I think it’s a key and difficult calculation that the SDLP must make, is John still your best candidate?

    Whilst the ‘nasty’ streak of Sinn Féin can be used to bolster your support I would caution against its habitual use. It should be sparingly used and expressed with regret, without heat or barded comments. Otherwise the SDLP will fall into a trap all of its own making, it will be seen just as petty and embittered. I just think people are fed up to the back teeth of squabbling and bickering politicians, especially amongst our own nationalist politicians.

    It would also encourage the belief that the SDLP is primarily motivated by their distaste of Sinn Féin, an anti-Sinn Féin party, an SDLP being a party that loves to bitch about them and their ‘past’. In the current mood and with the passage of I don’t think this is a good strategy to follow. It’s adds to the feeling of ‘disconnect’.

    I’ll lastly bore you with some questions, nit in any expectation of any answers but rather to prompt some wider thinking:
    • What will be the central messages of the SDLP, where does is it see this society going, what changes do they see?
    • There has been a lack of clarity on that for a while now, is it a pseudo-left party using the language of ‘progressives’, adopting and promoting ‘owc’ as a concept, and side-lining identity, national issues?
    • For this part of Ireland what principles, promises and what will the SDLP seek to deliver?
    • On local constituencies what are the issues and promises that SDLP candidates will be standing on? For example what are the issues in FST that are important to people generally, and to nationalists in particular?

    Both the SDLP and Sinn Féin look through party prism’s, such prism’s encourage a party politico bubble that exclude the delivery of tangible outcomes which address people’s needs. The debate around changing structures and the creation of an ‘opposition’ is a case in point.

    There is a mood for delivery on real issues that affect people’s lives, for harmonious relationship building and for nationalists; a positive, unthreatening message of hope and their pride in being Irish. That is a subtle difference from the issue of ‘the border’.

    There is an opportunity at the minute for the SDLP. A good tranche of young candidates and an effective articulate leadership espousing a positive message; focussed on delivery, hope and consensus, set within civic nationalism has the potential to make a difference.

    On current evidence though the party is consumed by inward tensions (why am I always reminded of a teacher’s common room) and party political perspectives; and are stepping forward on a pseudo-left journey of making Northern Ireland, the region, work for all of us, that sets aside the issue of identity and of healing the national brokenness.

    I may be proved wrong but that I think direction will at best, eventually result in a contracting rump vote, particularly in places like FST.

    • I actually visited 18 constituencies in the week of the Election. All by Bus and Train. In the past six weeks, I have been in Fermanagh-South Tyrone on four occasions, although only once in County Fermanagh.
      There is a lot to be gleaned from travelling thru the Clogher Valley and having a very nice cup of tea and apple tart in Enniskillen.
      And reading local newspapers in Downpatrick, Coleraine and Omagh.
      So I think the “metrotextual” bloggerati miss out on that.
      Clearly …as all political parties are inclined to say….the campaign for the 2016 Assembly Election begins on the day after the 2015 Westminster Election is over.
      No doubt there will be lessons learned from 2014 and 2015.
      On the question of SDLP being punished for losing the seat, I dont think that would stand scrutiny and unlikely to bother the SDLP core that SF cant reach.
      Was standing Fearghal McKinney in 2010 a factor in Tommy Gallagher losing the seat in 2011….by about 50 votes.
      My instinct is to say No….because it was too narrow and chimed with the downturn in SDLP fortunes in 2011 thru the North.
      I am led to believe the 2011 SDLP campaign was not unduly energetic.
      Of course it can be said that it might have been different if Michelle Gildernew had actually lost in 2010.
      I think there is a SDLP Councillor in every DEA in the constituency and thats an asset.
      But the constituency is massive and the lack of an office (as far as I know) to sign the passport forms and deal with housing issues etc is a major issue.
      One candidate known in the constituency from Dungannon to Belleek and Newtownbutler? Or the risk of two…one in South Tyrone and one in Fermanagh and inter county transfers.
      Or head-hunting ?
      The SDLP will of course be looking at all issues rising out of 2014 and 2015.
      Yes I would worry….but only slightly….about a “our wee country” narrative. Thats a metropolitan “thing”.
      The POTENTIAL damage of a Leadership Election, which I will address at the weekend has the POTENTIAL to muddy the waters.
      Choose your own cliché….shooting ourselves in the foot or snatching defeat from the jaws of victory ….
      But as I said on another thread….while the talk is of NEW blood, Id really like to see an end of BAD blood within the SDLP.
      And having seen (Election Counts at Kings Hall) just how toxic relationships are between DUP and Sinn Féin, I really think Opposition emerges as an issue.

  4. roddy says:

    Michelle actuallyincreased her vote by 1700.

  5. roddy says:

    Some weeks ago John I mentioned the shit hitting the fan as far as your party was concerned.By the time its completed its trajectory,”designated SF caseworkers” will be the least of your party’s worries.

  6. roddy says:

    A week is….


  7. roddy says:



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