Strong turnout urged in Fermanagh by-election
Strong turnout urged in Fermanagh by-election

Next Thursday sees an important local council by-election in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.

Leaders of the main political parties have been campaigning in the area for the seat which Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams described as “winnable” for his party.

In a heavy-hitting campaign to hold onto its council seat, the current Economy Minister, Arlene Foster, is contesting the election for the DUP. The party has already seen off a threat by Jim Allister’s ultra-hardline Traditional Unionist Voice, which has opted not to contest the election.

Nevertheless, Sinn Féin’s Debbie Coyle will be hoping for a split in the unionist vote as well as transfers from the SDLP candidate Rosemary Flanagan and young independent candidate, Karen McHugh.

Adams, campaigning in the town last week, said there was a strong response for his party.

“Debbie Coyle is an excellent candidate, with a strong track record of work in the community and voluntary sectors,” he said.

“She knows the issues bearing down on the people of Fermanagh and, along with her colleagues on Fermanagh District Council, the Sinn Féin team has a first class programme focussed on tackling the many local issues of concern, including housing, transport infrastructure and car parking, tourism, the local economy and jobs, health and neighbourhood renewal.”

Mr Adams criticised the weekend comments by SDLP leader Mark Durkan in which, he claimed, Mr Durkan had effectively called for the scrapping of partnership government in the North.

“What is being proposed by the SDLP leader is the abandonment of the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, and the principles of equality, and of partnership government, and the protections these provide for citizens.

“Many nationalists will be deeply troubled by these ill considered and irresponsible comments which would effectively accept a return to Unionist majority rule.”

The performance of Karen McHugh -- daughter of former Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry McHugh -- will be watched for any indications of a possible nationalist protest vote.

“People are saying to me that they have not been represented by the parties. My aim is to be a voice for young people in this area who really need more facilities and attention paid to them,” said McHugh.

“People are looking for a fresh face and new ideas, namely an alternative to what is already available to make changes and improve life experiences for the future generations. That is what I hope to achieve through this election.”

DUP leader Peter Robinson, also on the canvas in Fermanagh last week, said only Arlene Foster could ensure the seat remains unionist.

He added: “Whilst turnout in areas like Enniskillen is always high, it is important that everyone comes out to vote -- Sinn Féin was very marginally ahead of the DUP as the largest party in this seat at the last council elections.

UUP leader Reg Empey, meanwhile, said people wanted “a full-time councillor like [UUP candidate] Basil Johnston” instead of “a part-timer like Mrs Foster”.

In the last [2005] local government election in this area, when all seven seats were up for grabs, Sinn Féin polled 28.5%, compared to 28.2% for the DUP, 20.5% for the UUP, and 18.2% for the SDLP. The DUP’s Arlene Foster topped the poll, with more than twice the votes of her nearest rival.

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