Game of (West) Tyrones

I really had no intention of doing a post on the Sinn Féin defection (Sorcha McAnespy) in West Tyrone. A regular reader of this Blog (“Sinn Féin Supporter in West Tyrone”) raised it in a comment and kindly stated that there was nothing to see here and it was all sour grapes. I of course saw a pattern …look at Fermanagh-South Tyrone.

That is of course what Bloggers and “commenters” do…talk up problems in other parties and minimise the problems in their own.

So…West Tyrone. The basics are that there are six Assembly seats and four will be nationalist and two will be unionist. It should be simple…until we look at disaffection within both SF and SDLP.

Of the four nationalist seats, it is certain three will be go to Sinn Féin, not least because SDLP is only fielding one candidate.

Although, Sorcha McAnespy is standing as an Independent, she has stated that she is not in disagreement with any SF policy. Her beef is with the local party…favouritism and nepotism with a dash of bias against women. I cant see her winning a seat. These internal disputes look bad to voters but realistically outside her own base, I cant see her attracting much support. It is an irritation for Sinn Féin but not a serious problem.

SDLP is also dealing with the fall-out of two local SDLP councillors resigning.And theres some similarity. But arguably, SDLP problems are more deep rooted.

In 2003 Assembly SDLP lost a seat to a local Independent, a doctor. And in 2005 Westminster Election polled badly against him. But fielding three candidates in 2007, polling more than a quota and still not managing a quota was ample evidence of poor vote management and a divided party.
Having no MLA in West Tyrone seems like a watershed.
Joe Byrne won back the seat in 2011 and there is strong evidence that SDLP has made steady improvement in 2014 and 2015….Daniel McCrossan having a comfortable quota in the Westminster race.
I first heard Daniel speak at the 2011 SDLP Conference and it was very evident that he was both MLA material and had the ambition to become one. It was also evident that he was Joe Byrnes heir apparent.
The personality clashes have never really gone away. Patsy Kelly in Strabane has always seemed semi-detached.
But the emergence of Dr Jo Deehan in Omagh seems a bigger problem. Certainly before the emergence of Daniel, she seemed the most likely successor. She missed out in 2007 and realistically that was her chance gone.
Daniel was selected as an Assembly candidate …the sole candidate…for the 2016 Election. Perhaps understandably Dr Deehan and her supporters felt she should also be on the ticket. The case was made that it was about gender balance and geographical balance.

My own position is clear but nuanced.
1 there is one SDLP quota in West Tyrone.
2 a second (female and Omagh-based) candidate WOULD add to the SDLP vote.
3 that increase would not be enough to elect a second candidate.
4 it MIGHT elect Dr Deehan rather than Danny.
5 Danny McCrossan is in my view the better candidate.

So running two candidates might elect the “wrong” MLA. Danny is the better person for 2016.
It should also be pointed out that since his co-option (Joe Byrne has been in ill health) to the Assembly, Danny has been brilliant and has of course an advantage.
Really running two candidates would run the risk of Danny losing out to a running mate but I think a small risk worth taking in the name of unity.
To be clear, I regard Danny as a friend. I have only come across Dr Deehan once (she chaired a working group at a conference in March 2012). Perhaps unfair to judge on one brief inter-action but I was not impressed.

So it is a distraction we can do without. Both Patsy Kelly and Dr Deehan will stand as Independents. They will damage Danny slightly in Strabane and Omagh but not enough. Much like Sorcha McAnespy and Sinn Féin.

So…few will disagree. Unionists 2 seats…Nationalists 4 (SF 3 SDLP 1).

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9 Responses to Game of (West) Tyrones

  1. Sinn Féin Supporter in Tyrone says:

    Will be a very interesting constituency to watch.

  2. Kev Hughes says:

    Are the demographics not shifting there for 5 seats yet or is it too tricky to get? I’m also cognisant that unionists get their (remaining) vote out very well indeed.

    • Kevin, this has been predicted for a long time. Likew ise Fermanagh-South Tyrone. There IS a demographic change going on (Upper Bann and East Derry for example).
      I think there are a few election cycles to go yet…and probably when it does eventiually happen, two or three seats will fall at the same election.
      I would be pleasantly surprised if any seat went from unionist to nationalist in 2016. In part its down to “getting the vote out” but also due to Alliance masquerading as the middle ground and shoring up unionism.

      • Catholic Voter says:

        Is there any seats that might go from nationalist to unionist or “other” this time out?

      • I dont want to make predictions and I make a distinction between those seats like West Tyrone, North Belfast, East Derry etc where there is predicted demographic change which would be long-term.
        There are constituencies like North Antrim and Lagan Valley where one or two nationalist seats have been lost alrady.
        I dont see any change due to demographics this time bit there will be seats that change hands, eitherbegween the three tribes or within the three tribes due to the normal ebb and flow of politics.
        I daresay if People Before Profit take a seat they would not define themselves as “nationalist”.

  3. Sinn Féin Supporter in Tyrone says:

    It seems there is more turmoil for the SDLP as yet another Tyrone councillor quits: Joanne Donnelly SDLP councillor in Omagh says there’s a culture in party which needs to be changed. Trouble for Daniel McCrossan?

    • It is understandable that you want to make the most of this. And unerstandable that I would want to minimise it…in much the same way that I enjoy pointing out that Sinn Féin handed welfare powers back to Westminster.
      A reasonable person might say that “turmoil” is hardly the word and that the balance of probability is that Daniel McCrossan will be elected in May.
      There is a SDLP quota and any first preferences cast for Dr Deehan and Patsy Kelly will work back into SDLP.
      I make it clear that Daniel is a friend and the best candidate for 2016.
      And I dont know Jo Deehan at all (save for once being in a syndicate at a conference) but I think there was a stage when she might have seen herself as heir apparent to Joe Byrne.
      But if she couldnt get herself elected in 2007, she ishardly the voice of 2016. She has been overtaken.
      There are other dimensions…JO Deehan and JOanne Donnelly are based in the “Omagh” end of the constituency and can legitimately say that there were good council results in 2014 and arguably the “Strabane” end was the weaker link in 2014.
      I think Danny would have been better placed to deal with the criticism if he himself had worked his way up thru the council ranks.
      You may recall that this is a subject I addressed at the end of last year. I suggested that the tradotional model of a hierarchy …
      1 MLA
      2 Councillor
      3 Branch Chairman-Secretary
      4 Rank & File Member….is changing and Party “staffers” are now between MLAs and Councillors.
      I think this is a classic example that suggests I am right about that.

  4. Catholic Voter says:

    I know its a different party (DUP not SDLP) but regarding your comment about councillors and staffers, will be interesting to see how Stalford and Pengellay fare in South Belfast. Stalford the grass roots councillor and Pengellay the staffer. I think they are both capable people. I have a sense as to which I think will win, but I won’t say as I really have no knowledge of the constituency.

    (In fact they have a similar problem to the SDLP inTyrone in that constituency of a disgruntled councillor, Ruth Patterson, who felt she was bypassed, which shows these problems are not confined to the SDLP or SF).

    • And DUP have a disaffected defector problem in Derry.
      Id much prefer Christopher Stalford to win. Met him a few times and always very polite and decent to me.
      I think the Alliance Party have a problem in South Belfast. Certainly some of the people I have spoken to (not necessarily in South Belfast) have expressed a preference for one of their candidates. It would be unfair to say whether they would prefer Duncan Morrow or Ms Paula Bradshaw (previously UNCUF) ….spouse of Ian Parsley (ex Alliance ex UNCUF and now Alliance again)

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