The SDLP tonight chose Assembly Member Eugene McMenamin as its candidate for the British General Election in West Tyrone.
Mr McMenamin was selected after another candidate, Policing Board member Joe Byrne, declined a face-off for the nomination.
The SDLP’s decision to run the seat has been interpreted as a setback for independent candidate Dr Kieran Deeny, who had hoped the party would step aside to enable him to unseat Sinn Féin vice-president Pat Doherty.
Mr McMenamin managed to hold on to his Assembly seat in 2003 when Mr Byrne lost his.
Dr Deeny was the main beneficiary of the slump in the SDLP vote, topping the Assembly poll in West Tyrone.
A bitter war of words has broken out in recent days between Dr Deeny and SDLP leader Mark Durkan over the party’s decision to contest the seat.
An email to the SDLP leader was released today in which the independent hospitals candidate held out the prospect that one day he could be a candidate for the party.
Dr Deeny, however, denied he had made a firm offer to join the SDLP.
“What I was saying in the email was, who knows what might happen in politics,” he told the Press Association.
“My politics has always been Social Democrat. My father was an SDLP supporter, and I was brought up in an SDLP town.
“I would be inclined towards any party which is cross-community and Social Democrat in its principles.
“Unfortunately, the SDLP is not that under this leader, and I have to say there would be no prospect of me considering joining while Mark Durkan is there acting in such a dictatorial fashion towards his constituency associations.”
Dr Deeny’s supporters had claimed they had reached a gentleman’s agreement with the SDLP, but this was denied by Mr Durkan.
He released a second letter from the GP in which he paid tribute to Mr Durkan, claiming he could spark a resurgence in the SDLP vote.
The SDLP leader said he was considering making the whole correspondence available to party members in West Tyrone.
Mr McMenamin will be hoping to rebuild the SDLP vote in the constituency from its total of 6,110 in the last Assembly election.
Dr Deeny topped the poll with 6,158 votes in 2003.
However, if he is to win the Westminster seat, he will have to overhaul a margin of 9,953 between him and Sinn Féin.
Pat Doherty, the Sinn Féin vice president, won the West Tyrone seat with a majority of 5,040 in the 2001 General Election over the Ulster Unionists’ William Thompson.
In that election, former Stormont Agriculture Minister Brid Rodgers secured 13,942 votes for the SDLP, finishing last in the three-way contest.
The Democratic Unionists have selected Assembly Member Tom Buchanan and the Ulster Unionists have chosen Derek Hussey as their candidate.