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13 November 2003 Edition

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Positive response in West Tyrone

Pat Doherty says the party's election campaign in West Tyrone is progressing beyond expectations. "After the cancellation of the spring election earlier in the year, we did a political canvass in West Tyrone, an area we had targeted for growth, and we were very pleasantly surprised at the response. Since this election was announced a number of weeks ago, we have continued to be pleasantly surprised," said Doherty.

"In terms of the way we organise, West Tyrone has been divided into 20 areas, with local people working in their own electoral neighbourhood. And all 20 areas are reporting an increased vote, some of them frighteningly so. None of the areas are reporting a negative response.

"What is clearly evident from our canvassing is that Sinn Féin is the most relevant party for nationalist and republican minded people. The focus on the GFA and the focus on the negotiations have rendered the SDLP less relevant. It would be foolish to image that the SDLP vote will disappear but I believe they will suffer as a consequence," said Doherty.

"We noticed in the last Westminster elections that more and more social and economic issues were being raised by the electorate. The fact that we have two constituency offices, one in Omagh town and a second in Strabane and a good team of working councillors, gives Sinn Féin an added advantage in this respect.

"In the last election the SDLP stood three candidates, the fact that they are only standing two in this election is in itself an acknowledgment of Sinn Féin's growing electoral strength in West Tyrone.

"As for the unionists, there are five unionist candidates standing, two DUP, opposed to the GFA obviously, two UUP, who are also anti-Agreement, and a newcomer from the PUP, who theoretically is pro-Agreement but you would need to look very hard to see how he is pro-Agreement. In effect, the pro-Agreement electorate within West Tyrone's unionist community has been disenfranchised by Trimble's failure to field candidates in the area that reflect the pro-Agreement option," said Doherty.

Also running in the West Tyrone Constituency is Carrickmore man Barry McElduff, who was Sinn Féin's other MLA in the assembly and Brian McMahon, who is based in the strongly republican border town of Strabane.

"The signs are good that Brian can capture the third seat in the constituency," said Doherty. "When he was elected to Strabane District Council in 2001 he polled 75% of the first preference votes. His standing in the community as a good worker is second to none and as an ex-POW he is well respected."

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