Parties remain positive in North's by-election

The leading contenders in a high profile by-election in the North remained in positive mood tonight as initial signs indicated their votes were holding up.

The leading contenders in a high profile by-election in the North remained in positive mood tonight as initial signs indicated their votes were holding up.

Election officials at polling stations in the Enniskillen area reported a steady flow of people throughout the day, helped by a rare spell of good weather in what has been a sodden summer in the lakeland county of Fermanagh.

The poll to decide the successor to late Democratic Unionist councillor Joe Dodds has assumed greater significance given the recent travails between the main parties in Stormont’s power-sharing administration.

With the Democratic Unionist and Sinn Féin-led executive in deadlock over a number of key issues, the vote in Enniskillen may 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 sat down for crunch talks aimed at preventing the institutions going into deep freeze, each will have had more than half an eye on events 80 miles westward.

So determined are the DUP to keep the seat out of republican hands that the party has fielded economy minister Arlene Foster as its candidate.

Mrs Foster is the favourite to fend off the challenge of Sinn Féin candidate Debbie Coyle and tonight the DUP’s Lord Morrow, who spent the day canvassing outside polling stations, said he remained confident his fellow Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA would prevail.

However a Sinn Féin spokesman said party workers were more than happy with the turn out in nationalist areas.

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist candidate Basil Johnston said he was still hopeful he could pull off a shock.

The count commences in Enniskillen Town Hall at 9am tomorrow with a result expected around lunchtime.

If the contest remains close on the first preference count then vote transfers could be crucial.

Despite clashing repeatedly on the campaign trail both the UUP and DUP have urged their supporters to select their unionist opponents as their second choice on the ballot paper.

There has been no such public pledge made between the nationalist SDLP and Sinn Féin.

It is also uncertain how the SDLP vote will come out after the party ran a somewhat low key campaign.

Another imponderable on the nationalist side is the potential impact Glasgow Celtic’s Champions League game tonight could have on the turn out, with the real prospect of many football fans opting to stay in to watch the game.

The Ulster Unionists have made much of the fact Mrs Foster resigned her seat on the council only last year and has publicly supported ending the practice of double jobbing within politics in the North.

However the DUP has defended its decision to select what it views as the candidate with the best chance of defeating Sinn Féin noting that she only resigned her seat due to a conflict of interest because of her involvement in drawing up plans to restructure local government bodies as Stormont’s environment minister.

The party said it remained committed to ending the practice of dual mandates when the planned reshaping of local administration took place in 2011.

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.

While the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice party did not put up a candidate for fear of splitting the unionist vote, Sinn Féin and the SDLP do face a challenge from 18-year-old independent republican Karen McHugh.

The youngest ever person to stand in a Northern Ireland election 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, cross-community 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.