30 January 1997 Edition
It's McGuinness vs McCrea
Sinn Féin can take Mid-Ulster
The announcement by Sinn Féin that Martin McGuinness is to be the party's candidate in the Mid-Ulster constituency in the Westminster election is the first step in the campaign to regain the seat for nationalists.
Only Sinn Féin, the largest nationalist party in Mid-Ulster, can now redress the injustice where, in the absence of proportional representation and with unionisits backing a single candidate, a constituency with a nationalist majority is represented by the DUP's Willie McCrea. Not since Bernadette McAliskey in 1969-'74 has this seat been held by nationalists. Sinn Féin's Danny Morrison came within 78 votes of capturing it in 1983.
With the nomination of Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin has made known its determination to oust Willie McCrea. ``People in this constituency have been enthused by the selection of Martin McGuinness,'' says Francie Molloy, Sinn Féin councillor and Mid-Ulster poll-topper in last May's election, who stood aside to allow the party's chief negotiator take the nomination. He told An Phoblacht that there is a real expectation that a breakthrough can be made this time. ``It would be a mandate for dialogue and against exclusion. The hard work has already begun,'' he said.
Sinn Féin will be standing in constituencies across the Six Counties, presenting a major electoral challenge in both the imminent Westminster election and the May local government poll.
Sinn Féin fields strong team
BY MICHEAL MacDONNCHA
Sinn Féin is aiming high in the strategy it has adopted for the Westminster election. This will be one of the most crucial elections ever fought by the party and it has stated its intention of making it one of the most successful.
The stakes are also very high. Sinn Féin will be faced with much greater hostility from the British media and much sharpened rivalry from the SDLP than it experienced in last May's elections. The latter was demonstrated with the statement on Tuesday from Denis Haughey, SDLP candidate in Mid-Ulster, that he was up against the ``two extremes'' of politics in the Six Counties in the DUP's Willie McCrea and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness.
The choice of Martin McGuinness to contest Mid-Ulster ensures that this, along with West Belfast and West Tyrone, will be the most fascinating and hotly contested of the 17 constituencies in the Six Counties.
Sinn Féin has the ability to win all three seats; the test of the election will be to achieve that.
In West Belfast the party must mobilise all its support and win new voters who have never voted for it before in a Westminster election. It will be up against an SDLP machine determined to prevent the predicted unseating of Joe Hendron who won the seat from Gerry Adams in 1992. On that occasion while the SDLP vote actually fell slightly in West Belfast and the Sinn Féin vote rose, around 3,400 loyalists voted tactically in order to oust Adams. There is every reason to believe that such tactical voting will be a factor again. The dilemma here is for the loyalist party, the PUP. If it runs it will attract key loyalist votes away from the SDLP; if it doesn't it will be neglecting its Shankill heartland at a key stage in the development of loyalist politics.
Several factors will make Mid-Ulster fascinating. It is a redrawn constituency since 1983 when Sinn Féin's Danny Morrison missed taking the seat from Willie McCrea by only 78 votes. But it is still one of the most republican constituencies in the North. Francie Molloy topped the poll for Sinn Féin with 13,001 votes and just under 30% of the total vote last May. Based on those elections the total unionist vote is in the region of 15,000. The choice of Martin McGuiness to contest here places one of the most high-profile political figures in the country in the contest. In the absense of a nationalist unity candidate the reality in these circumstances is that only Sinn Féin has the strength to unseat Willie McCrea. This would be a victory for democracy in this constituency and in the Six Counties as a whole.
Much of the new West Tyrone constituency was part of the old Mid-Ulster and here again the contest will be close and hard fought. Both unionist parties have selected candidates but they are expected to unite closer to the election, harnessing some 14,000 votes won by them in May. The selection of another high profile Sinn Féin candidate, Vice-President Pat Doherty, indicates the party's determination to go all out to achieve nearly 4000 extra votes needed for an historic Sinn Féin win. Party activists believe that this target is possible.
All that remains now to set the stage for the election is for the unionists to finalise their unity plans and for John Major to fix the date.
The full list of Sinn Féin candidates in the Westminster election is:
West Belfast, Gerry Adams; Mid-Ulster, Martin McGuinness; West Tyrone, Pat Doherty; Fermanagh/South Tyrone, Gerry McHugh; North Belfast, Gerry Kelly; East Belfast, Dominic Corr; South Belfast, Sean Hayes; East Derry, Malachy O'Kane; Lagan Valley, Sue Ramsey; Newry/Armagh, Pat McNamee; South Antrim, Henry Cushnahan; South Down, Mick Murphy; Strangford, Garret Seaninin O' Fachtna; Upper Bann, Bernadette O'Hagan; North Antrim, James McCarry.