SDLP look to Fianna Fáil
SDLP look to Fianna Fáil

The SDLP has brought in two of the key strategists behind Fianna Fáil's 2002 election victory in the 26 Counties to advise it on aspects of its campaign for the forthcoming Assembly elections.

The party's former general secretary and former adviser to Bertie Ahern have been advising the SDLP for a number of months on vote management techniques and strategies.

Fianna Fáil's management of votes in the South's proportional representation elections is legendary and, coupled with a free-spending budget splurge, helped the party return to government last year.

Fianna Fáil took 49 per cent of the seats in the Dail, with less than 42 per cent of the votes.

But it remains to be seen if their vote management techniques, such as splitting constituencies between candidates and targeting transfers from other parties, will work to the same effect in the North.

The party is particularly targeting transfers from moderate unionists, independents and cross-community candidates to capture seats in unionist strongholds to offset and losses to Sinn Féin in nationalist areas.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) form of proportional representation in use next month provides great drama through the `transfer' of excess votes.

STV asks voters to nominate a number of candidates or parties in order of preference - effectively saying `I want to vote for A, but if A has enough votes or has no chance of election, I will transfer my vote to B, and after that to C', and so on.

First preference votes are counted first, and anyone passing a set `quota' is elected. Surplus votes for these candidates are then redistributed according to their supporters' second preferences, as well as the votes of candidates eliminated with the lowest amounts.

Small numbers of these transfers can have a crucial impact on the final make-up of the assembly.

Four of the SDLP's most prominent members, Mr John Hume, Mr Seamus Mallon, Mr Eddie McGrady and Ms Brid Rodgers, are stepping down. The party appears particularly vulnerable in South Down and Derry.


Meanwhile, the SDLP's Dr Joe Hendron, who chaired the Assembly Health Committee when Ms de Brun was minister, said Sinn Féin Health Minister Bairbre de Brun ``sleepwalked'' through her three years in office.

He claimed his party would secure an extra three quarters of a billion pounds in investment for hospitals in the next executive.

``The record shows that their minister presided over a massive growth of waiting lists.

``Every extra person on a waiting list is a sign of increased suffering and a huge boost to the marketing departments of private hospitals.''

But Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly hit back, however, accusing the SDLP of being afraid of taking the `poisoned chalice' health portfolio in 1999 when the power sharing government came into being.

The North Belfast Assembly candidate said: ``They refused to take it and you have ask yourself why did they refuse to take it.

``They were afraid of the challenge of health and education and we took the challenge on and we have done very well with it.''

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