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Battle for West Tyrone: Sinn Fein's Pat Doherty unlikely to be troubled

By Adrian Rutherford

Some constituencies in this election are a close call - West Tyrone is unlikely to be one of them.

Pat Doherty is defending a 10,000-plus majority, and is overwhelming favourite to retain his seat on May 7.

Created following a boundary review in 1995, this is Northern Ireland's newest constituency.

Mr Doherty has held the seat for Sinn Fein since 2001, and took 48.4% of the vote last time. It would take a remarkable upset to unseat the 69-year-old former party vice-president.

According to Wesley Atchison, who edits the Tyrone Constitution newspaper based in Omagh, health is one of the big issues on the doorsteps.

"Like in many other areas there is a need for more jobs and more industry right throughout the West Tyrone area," he said.

"Retaining health services also stands out prominently. Acute hospital services have been stripped from the Tyrone County Hospital in recent years and one concern is that the services which still exist locally will be retained within the new Omagh Local Enhanced Hospital."

The West Tyrone seat covers the former Omagh and Strabane council areas, and its 60,000-odd electorate is largely nationalist.

Indeed the combined nationalist vote has always been over 50% since the seat was created.

Mr Doherty is odds-on to be returned again. Born in Glasgow to Irish emigrant parents, he moved to Donegal in the 1960s, and served as Sinn Fein vice-president from 1988 to 2009.

He says the single biggest issue across the constituency is the A5 scheme linking Aughnacloy and Londonderry.

Mr Doherty is among nine candidates on the ballot paper.

Also running is DUP MLA Tom Buchanan, who finished a distant second in 2010, some 10,685 votes behind.

Mr Buchanan, who admits he faces "a huge challenge", said he would prioritise economic growth, inward investment and job creation if elected.

"My message to voters is that it is time for change," he said.

"It is time for someone who will be a voice in Westminster, who will represent you and work on your behalf, rather than be an MP in name only."

Ross Hussey is the Ulster Unionist candidate, the SDLP is fielding Daniel McCrossan, and Barry Brown is standing on a pro-cannabis ticket.

Claire-Louise Leyland, an NI Conservative candidate, set foot in the constituency for the first time earlier this month.

The ballot paper also includes one of the most controversial candidates standing anywhere in the UK in this election.

Susan-Anne White, who is an independent, wants rock music banned, gay people jailed and feminism abolished.

But she says: "I don't consider myself extreme - not at all."

The other candidates are Stephen Donnelly (Alliance) and Ciaran McClean (Green Party).

Belfast Telegraph


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