Sinn Féin’s European candidate Bairbre de Brun has emerged as the bookies’ favourite to top the poll at next month’s election but is facing a hard battle against the DUP’s Diane Dodds.
According to bookmakers Paddy Power, the sitting Sinn Féin MEP is currently leading the bets with odds of 4/6 to top the poll, closely followed by the DUP’s Dodds at 11/10.
This week the DUP, Sinn Féin, Ulster Unionist/Conservative, SDLP, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), Alliance Party and Green Party candidates all formally submitted their nomination papers.
The family of imprisoned republican spokesman Colin Duffy said they would not be mounting an election campaign to highlight his plight owing to a lack of time and resources.
All three sitting MEPs are contesting the election. The significant difference this time is that Jim Allister is running on behalf of the new hardline Traditional Unionist Voice party, which he leads.
Four years ago he was elected as an MEP for the DUP, but resigned from the party when the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed to share power.
At the last European election in 2004, as the then DUP candidate, Mr Allister came out on top with 175,000 first preference votes. However, contesting the election for the TUV, Mr Allister is given only an outside chance of repeating his 2004 win.
JIm Nicholson, the sitting MEP for the UUP, is challenging on behalf of his renamed party ‘Ulster Conservatives and Unionists New Force’ (UCUNF) following his party’s formal alliance with the British Conservative Party.
The DUP candidate Diane Dodds described the poll on June 4th as a “defining election”.
She said it was certain a woman candidate would head the poll -- either her or Sinn Féin’s Bairbre de Brun. She characterised the election as a battle to keep Sinn Féin from winning the most votes and claiming the title of the largest party in the North.
Handing in her nomination papers this week, Ms de Brun said she was “looking to maximise the Sinn Féin vote across Ireland and to build on the work we have been engaged in. Our campaign is based on leadership and our record at home and at an EU level.
“We are asking people to come out and defend the Peace Process, to vote for progress and to give us a mandate for change and maximise the vote for Irish Unity.”
Ms de Brun said this election would witness competing traditional political philosophies and she stressed the importance of voters to register.
“Tens of thousands of eligible voters across the North are still not registered to vote, and I would encourage everyone to ensure that they are registered to vote by midnight on May 19th - the final registration date for the EU election.”
SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the election would serve as a mid-term test of opinion on both the Sinn Féin and the DUP. Addressing the launch of SDLP’s campaign, he accused the two leading parties in the Executive of “unimaginative” behaviour in office. The party’s candidate is north Belfast councillor Alban Maginess, and is given little chance of a seat.
However, Maginness claimed the presence of Mr Allister in the race could create conditions where he might benefit from a split unionist vote.
Meanwhile, dissident republican spokesman Colin Duffy will not be running in the election, his family announced last night. A campaign had been considered by the Duffy family “to expose the unjust imprisonment and the continued persecution by the state” of Mr Duffy, a former miscarriage of justice victim and currently being held without bail at Maghaberry prison.
At a public meeting held this week in Lurgan, the family led by Mr Duffy’s brother Paul, said there was simply not enough time for them to mount their campaign.
“Up until last weekend it was very positive but when we looked more at the logistics and realised we would have to print a quarter of a million leaflets to put round the doors it became apparent the timespan of four weeks was not going to be viable,” he said.
His eldest daughter, Caitriona, explained the situation to supporters who had been barred at the last minute from using the local community centre.
“In the end, we have come to a very simple conclusion - that for a family-based campaign which is in its infancy, even with the best will in world - and in the very limited four week window available to us, we would not be able to mount the effective, well co-ordinated and well-resourced campaign required to do justice both to my dad, Colin, and to all those who have pledged our family their full support.
“Putting it very simply, time was not on our side. Indeed, we have also concluded that such an electoral intervention would be used by the establishment and by some sections of the media to portray a single-issue family-based campaign for justice in another light, and to attach ulterior motives to our campaign in order to suit their own agendas.
Indeed, some sections to the media and some politicians have already started to do just that.
“While this decision by our family will come as a disappointment to many of those who have supported us, it will no doubt be viewed with relief in certain other quarters. Unlike those political parties who fully support the very police force which has imprisoned my dad, Colin, our family does not have luxury of being in receipt of hundreds of thousands of pounds from the British government to help finance an effective election campaign.”