The Social Democratic and Labour Party tonight signalled its determination to hold on to two of its Stormont Assembly seats in the constituency of West Tyrone.
Joe Byrne, a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and Eugene McMenamin, an electrical contractor by trade, are expected to take part in a fierce battle with Sinn Fein for the nationalist vote.
Sinn Fein, buoyed by the success of its vice president Pat Doherty in last year’s General Election where he beat the SDLPs deputy leader Brid Rodgers to take the Westminster seat from Ulster Unionist William Thompson, believes that a slight percentage swing could give it three Assembly seats.
Mr Doherty’s Assembly colleague from Sinn Fein is Barry McElduff.
After his reselection tonight by SDLP members, Mr McMenamin acknowledged the contest for nationalist votes would be fierce.
“I’m obviously delighted to have been re-selected along with Joe,” he said.
“We know it is going to be a tough fight but we fully intend to hold on to our two seats.”
Mr Byrne, a lecturer at Omagh Further Education College, narrowly missed out in 1997 on winning the West Tyrone Westminster seat.
In the 1998 Assembly election, he polled 6,495 first preference votes under the proportional representation system and took the third seat in the six-seater constituency.
Mr McMenamin received 3,548 votes and was elected on the ninth count along with Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff to take the final two seats.
Ulster Unionist Derek Hussey will also defend a seat in the constituency.
On Tuesday, the Democratic Unionists’ veteran MLA Oliver Gibson announced he would be standing down from the Assembly but was confident his party would defend its seat.