By-election test for power-sharing parties

A council by-election will provide the latest litmus test for Northern Ireland's faltering power-sharing government today.

By-election test for power-sharing parties

A council by-election will provide the latest litmus test for the North's faltering power-sharing Government today.

With the Democratic Unionist and Sinn Féin-led Executive in deadlock regarding a number of key issues, the poll in Enniskillen will indicate whether the electorate's patience is wearing thin.

Executive ministers have not met since June in a bitter dispute about the transfer of policing powers from Westminster and while the two parties sit down for crunch talks aimed at preventing the institutions going into deep freeze, each will have more than half an eye on events 80 miles westward.

So determined are the DUP to keep the Co Fermanagh lakeland town seat out of republican hands that the party has fielded Economy Minister Arlene Foster as its candidate.

Mrs Foster, who hopes to defend the seat vacated after the death of DUP veteran Joe Dodds, resigned her own position on the council last year because she was then involved in drawing up plans to restructure local government bodies as Stormont's environment minister.

Her decision to stand again has drawn criticism from another member of the enforced coalition administration, the Ulster Unionist Party, which accused Mrs Foster of hypocrisy given her past vows to end double-jobbing in Northern politics.

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said the DUP remains committed to ending the practice of dual mandates.

But, with planned restructuring of local administration still three years away, her party has defended its right to put up its strongest candidate in the poll.

The DUP claims the UUP has opened up the possibility of allowing the seat to fall into the hands of republicans after refusing to allow it to co-opt a candidate after the death of Mr Dodds, who was father of current Stormont Finance Minister Nigel Dodds.

UUP candidate Basil Johnston said the DUP took the co-option for granted and did not consult with his party.

The clash between the rival unionist camps was always set to be heated, given the fact that Mrs Foster was once a member of the UUP before defecting to the DUP.

But while the two candidates have been trading heavy blows in the lead-up to today's contest, they have still urged their voters to support their unionist opponents when it comes to the transfer vote.

The hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice party said it did not put up a candidate for fear of splitting the unionist vote further.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP have made no public vote swap pledge on the nationalist side in an election where the transfer looks set to be crucial.

In 2005 there were just more than 30 votes between Sinn Féin and the DUP on the total first preference count.

Sinn Féin's candidate Debbie Coyle faces another challenge in the form of 18-year-old independent republican Karen McHugh.

The youngest ever person to stand in an election in the North is the daughter of Gerry McHugh, the former Sinn Féin councillor who quit the party last December after accusing the leaders of operating a dictatorship.

SDLP candidate Rosemary Flanagan claims the electorate are sick of the constant wrangling between Sinn Féin and the DUP at Stormont and want a change of direction.

Meanwhile, Alliance candidate Dr Kumar Kamble said he wants to keep the focus on local issues affecting people in Enniskillen, such as traffic congestion.

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.