Fermanagh-South Tyrone: Sinn Féin Crisis

It is hard to see the Sinn Féin Convention in Fermanagh-South Tyrone as anything other than a disaster. I dont envy the SF Press Officer who has to spin this one.

To recap, last May, SF were confident that Michelle Gildernew would retain the seat at Westminster. Their trolls embarked on a particuarly nasty “social media” campaign against John Coyle, the SDLP candidate. And…Karma being Karma, Ms Gildernew lost the seat to Tom Elliott of UUP.

It was always likely that Ms Gildernew would seek election to the Assembly in May and as Bronwyn McGahon MLA announced she was standing down, the scene was set for Michelle Gildernews return.

But the scene was complicated by sitting MLA Phil Flanagan having an expensive little Twitter-related problem of his own.

So at a recent selection convention, Gildernew was duly selected along with Sean Lynch MLA and John Feeley,a local councillor. Flanagan lost out.

There was however a discrepancy in the figures and a second convention was called. This time Lynch, Feeley and Flanagan were selected and Gildernew and McGahon who changed her mind, lost out.

So this leaves Fermanagh-South Tyrone without a Sinn Féin female candidate. And more seriously for vote management it means all three candidates are based in County Fermanagh and the South Tyrone part of the constituency will be allocated to one of the Fermanagh men.

Does it matter? Yes. To maintain three seats, vote management is vital and committed Sinn Féin voters in Dungannon and along the Clogher Valley will feel aggrieved.

The position of SDLP looks the same…the sole candidate is Fermanagh man, Richie McPhillips but it is actually a very different situation. Committed SDLP voters thru the constituency will know that the best way SDLP can regain the seat lost to SF in 2011 is a single candidate.

SDLP will also feel that they lost the seat by around seventy votes in 2011 and will be confident at having a solid vote (2014) in all six DEAs in the constituency, Sinn Féin lost their aura of invincibiliity in 2015 and now in 2016, their reputation for good organisation is in tatters.

What happened? Well Michelle Gildernew may be at the Sinn Féin top table but she committed the cardinal sin of losing the totemic seat won by Bobby Sands in 1981. And Phil Flanagan may have tweeted an expensive libel about Tom Elliott of UUP but seemingly the Party at national level is more forgiving of Michelle Gildernew than the rank and file in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. And seemingly the rank and file is more forgiving of Phil Flanagan than Party HQ.

But it aint over yet. It might well be the story of another selection convention (a third one) and membership instructed by HQ to vote again until they get it right. Or more likely, one of the three selected men will be persuaded to stand down in the interests of sInn Féin and they can even claim a high moral ground that it is all about gender balance.

Last week, I was telling anyone who would listen that Michelle Gildernew would move to Mid Ulster but overnight she has made it clear that she is not so doing….and her “heart is in Fermanagh-South Tyrone”. I think Michelle Gildernew will be on the ticket. But the damage is done and the bad blood in the constituency and between national and local Sinn Féin is too obvious to ignore.

Of course….she could always take a seat in the “House of Lords”

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10 Responses to Fermanagh-South Tyrone: Sinn Féin Crisis

  1. Very poor party management for SF and parallel’s some of the factional tensions in Cork. Despite her health issues I always thought that Michelle Gildernew enjoyed a fair degre of pan-nationalist support in FST. The competition with a popular unionist candidate was always going to be tight. Not sure fresh blood will weigh that heavily in SF’s favour.

    • There must also be something happening in North Antrim.
      But it must be nasty in Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
      For Sinn Féin to be the biggest party after May, it was always going to a case of DUP losing a few seats (possible) and SF gaining a few and that looks increasingly unlikely.
      West Belfast is almost certainly a loss and in running two candidates in North Belfast (three last time) it is really difficult to see how SF can make net gains. The odds seem against them taking three in Foyle and two in Upper Bann.
      So this chaos in Fermanagh-South Tyrone seems likely to result in a loss.
      Much too early to analyse Elections (and increasingly it looks like 18 Elections) but at this point I cant see SF advancing.
      In part, they have been spoiled by the narrative of constant progress and the other parties north and south should be turning up the heat.

      • If SF scores big in the general election and takes 20 or more seats in An Dáil there might well be a bounce up north but as things stand right now I reckon its support has levelled out and it has nowhere to go for at least this electoral cycle. Of course some unionist shape-throwing in Stormont could galvanise support. Maybe Arlene might oblige!

      • Id see SF scoring 23 or so in south. But no breakthru.
        The key “bounce” is Easter rather than Southern election.
        The Dáil election will be before the first Easter (March) so will have minimal effect. If SF are involved in negotiations in March then they are likely to tone down the 1916 rhetoric.
        Conversely if not involved in any coalition building (and unlikely anyway) they can ramp up the rhetoric in March and April (the second calendar Easter) is about ten days before Assembly election.
        It breaks well for SF….1916 wont help them in south but will help them in north.

  2. Sinn Féin Supporter in Tyrone says:

    There isn’t a story here: Sinn Féin noticed a discrepancy in the votes in the first selection election so held a new one. Democracy in action. Sinn Féin supporters will not be perturbed in the slightest.

    Michelle has made clear that she is happy with the outcome and has said it could be a blessing in disguise.


    • Like I said, I dont envy the SF spinner who is told to spin this one away.
      Nothing to see here eh?
      A senior member of the Sinn Féin who lost Bobby Sands seat last May, struggled to be selected at a convention in December.
      She narrowly defeated a sitting MLA who libelled a senior unionist and landed himself with a massive bill.
      Meanwhile there was a discreapancy in the votes and yesterday the former MP could not get herself on the ticket and the person landed with the big bill was chosen.
      Nothing to see here?
      i beg to differ.
      Even if we accept that spin….it is obvious to anyone that if SF are serious about defending three seats, they would actually have a candidate based in South Tyrone.

  3. The keep says:

    There must also be something happening in North Antrim.
    Whats happening there?

    • Well there is unlikely to be two nationalist quotas but initially SF selected two candidates Daithi McKay MLA and Cara McShane….very high risk.
      Especially as neither are the main SF person in the constituency.
      In the last few weeks I heardthat there will only be one candidate…McKay. So clearly something wrong there.
      At times like this, I wish I could write what I think on a piece of paper and put it in an envelope and seal it….and open it up if I am right.
      It now looks like Michelle Gildernew will be added to the ticket in Fermanagh South Tyrone.
      She called it a blessing in disguise when she didnt make the ticket so she will be doing another U turn….they are seriously messed up in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, especially as Phil Flanagan and SF ate telling different stories about bank accounts.

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