DUP leader Peter Robinson and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams were both in Co Fermanagh today rallying supporters for an election that sees voters go to the polls next week.
The campaign for a seat on Fermanagh District Council has taken-on greater significance than might be expected because Economy Minister Arlene Foster has opted to fight the election for the DUP.
But the polling day also comes as the parties are involved in talks aimed at securing the future of the Northern Ireland power-sharing government.
Voters in Enniskillen will cast their votes on Wednesday September 17, while a crucial Executive meeting is planned at Stormont for September 18.
Sinn Féin and the DUP are divided over a series of issues including the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Assembly.
Republicans have blocked cabinet meetings since June and are demanding movement from the DUP, but Mr Robinson has threatened serious consequences if the Executive meeting planned for next week does not happen.
In Enniskillen today Mr Robinson expressed concerns Sinn Fein could seize the seat formerly held by his party colleague Joe Dodds, the late father of Finance Minister Nigel Dodds.
Mr Robinson called on unionists to unite behind Mrs Foster: “I know that unionists in the west of the province have always appreciated the need for unionists to stand together.
“This by-election gives the unionists of Enniskillen a great opportunity to demonstrate to the whole of Northern Ireland how effective unionism is when we work together for a cause we all believe in.”
Mr Adams said his party was receiving good support for Sinn Féin candidate Debbie Coyle.
“Every vote will count but the feedback thus far on the canvas is very good,” he said.
“Debbie Coyle is an excellent candidate with a strong track record of work in the community and voluntary sectors.”
The other candidates are the SDLP’s Rosemary Flanagan, Dr Kumar Kamble for Alliance, Ulster Unionist Basil Johnston and independent Karen McHugh.
The DUP and Sinn Féin held talks last week and pledged themselves to hold further discussions which are set to continue this week.
Tensions within unionism rose last week when leader of the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) Jim Allister urged the DUP to prevent Sinn Féin having any government role in overseeing law and order.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has rounded on the SDLP after its leader Mark Durkan said the power-sharing structures at Stormont could be overhauled, alongside the creation of a strong Bill of Rights.
Today Mr Adams said: “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.”
But today SDLP Deputy Leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said Sinn Féin is already undermining the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
It was claimed that if a Justice Ministry is set-up at Stormont, the DUP and Sinn Féin see Alliance as a possible agreed third party to take the job.
But the SDLP said that under the d’Hondt formula it was next in line for a ministry.
Mr McDonnell said: “Through all the summer stand-off when Martin McGuinness prevented Executive meetings, Sinn Féin and the DUP were absolutely agreed on one thing: that they would use their joint numbers to exclude the SDLP from office.
“This is majority mis-rule just as the old Stormont regime practised it.
“The whole basis of the Good Friday Agreement was democratic inclusiveness.”
He said the SDLP had defended the Agreement and its inclusive nature when unionists wanted to exclude Sinn Fein because of the IRA.
Mr McDonnell added: “This Sinn Féin cave-in shows that simple ’designation’ as unionist and nationalist provides little protection against majority abuse.
“The essential power-sharing provision of the Good Friday Agreement, the one that must be protected at all costs, is democratic inclusiveness in proportion to mandate as expressed in the d’Hondt mechanism.
“What Sinn Féin and the DUP are about is power-dividing and exclusion; a government perhaps of Catholics and Protestants but absolutely no dissenters allowed.”