West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty yesterday predicted Sinn Féin would capture 150 seats in the local council elections on May 5 — a rise of almost 50 per cent in the party’s representation.
The parties in the North are preparing for the first full day of campaigning for the twin local government and Westminster polls. Party campaigns had been put on hold until after the funeral of the Pope.
“You will see advances in some of the strongest areas in which Sinn Féin is represented,” said Pat Doherty, “but you’ll also witness ground being captured in districts where Sinn Féin wasn’t previously well represented, areas like Down and Antrim.
“Since the last election, we have been continually active on the ground and we will see the fruits of that work now. I realise, of course, that 150 seats is an ambitious target but it’s achieveable.”
Foyle, where SDLP leader Mark Durkan will take on Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Féin, is seen as the key constituency for the nationalist competition in the Westminster election. The pair will face off against each other on Thursday night for the first televised debate of the election.
DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson urged unionists to vote for his party - in order to stop Sinn Féin receiving most votes in the election. He urged unionists to turn out in large numbers on May 5 to stop Sinn Féin from topping the poll.
Mr Robinson said: “Republicans will do whatever it takes to win.
“It is critical that unionists focus on the threat to democracy and unionism that would come if Sinn Féin emerged from the elections as the largest political party in Northern Ireland.”
The DUP took a step towards their goal of retaining their status as the largest party when UK Unionist leader Robert McCartney, who served as North Down MP between 1995 and 2001, confirmed he would not be standing in the constituency at the election.
Mr McCartney said he had been swayed by a commitment in the DUP manifesto that it would reject power sharing with Sinn Féin.
His decision clears the way for DUP Assembly member Peter Weir to launch a vigorous assault on Lady Sylvia Hermon’s seat in North Down and make it a tighter contest.
The UKUP leader said: “After a great deal of heart-searching, I have decided not to stand for election in the North Down constituency.
“Now that the Democratic Unionist Party is about to confirm in its manifesto that ‘inclusive mandatory coalition government which includes Sinn Féin under d’Hondt or any other system is out of the question’, I can conclude that the Belfast Agreement is finally dead and my main political objective has been achieved.”
In other election news, two prominent members of the Ulster Unionist Party feature in an election leaflet for the rival DUP’s candidate in South Belfast.
Lord Molyneaux, a former leader of the UUP, and outgoing South Belfast MP Martin Smyth consented to the publication of endoresements and a photograph taken with the DUP candidate Jimmy Spratt.