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20 April 2000 Edition

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Landslide victory in West Tyrone

BY LAURA FRIEL

An energetic and determined election team was the key to Sinn Féin candidate Barry McElduff's spectacular success in taking a seat on Omagh district council last week.

Much to the chagrin of many media commentators, the SDLP's prospects faltered as McElduff doubled his party's tally in the West Tyrone constituency to 3,757 votes, up from 1,850 votes in the 1997 local council elections. McElduff was 2,319 votes ahead of the SDLP.

This was the second local government by-election held this year in which Sinn Féin not only secured the seat but doubled its vote. In January, Pauline Davey-Kennedy's victory in Antrim North West was an initial indication of Sinn Féin's still growing electoral strength.

Recent polling trends suggest that nationalist anger at the British government's collapse of the institutions at the behest of David Trimble and the anti Agreement elements within unionism is being translated into increased electoral support for Sinn Féin. The party is also attracting the younger new vote.

Last week's victory in Tyrone ensures that Sinn Féin's Pat Doherty is well placed to gain the West Tyrone Westminster seat from Ulster Unionist Willie Thompson in the next general election. In 1997, Thompson took the seat with a vote of just under 35%. The SDLP polled just over 32%, with Sinn Féin's Pat Doherty close behind on 30%.

The next challenge facing Sinn Féin's election teams will be a by-election in Fermanagh's Erne West, with polling set for the end of May. The election follows the resignation of independent Patrick McCaffrey. In the last local government election, Sinn Fein's candidate Stephen Huggett was narrowly prevented by unionist Derrick Nixon from taking a second seat for Sinn Féin.

With no independent nationalist candidates in the field, Sinn Féin is well placed to take Erne West and score an impressive hat trick.
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