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Mid Ulster: Election apathy a danger but Sinn Fein's Molloy looks a certainty

By Noel McAdam

Published 16/04/2015

Sinn Fein MP Francie Molloy
Sinn Fein MP Francie Molloy

Voters in Mid Ulster have already been back to the polls to choose a new MP since the last general election.

That was in a by-election sparked by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness standing down, and giving the constituency an extra election in a year when everyone else was enjoying a break.

Could it affect the turn-out, with voter apathy even higher than normal?

Sinn Fein had planned that incumbent MP Francie Molloy would have been the first republican speaker of the Assembly by now.

Instead he was selected to replace Mr McGuinness as the Sinn Fein standard-bearer in what has long been one of the party's safest seats.

The March 2013 by-election had seen unionists unite in much the same way as the current DUP/Ulster Unionist pact which covers four seats in the current election.

Well-known local joint candidate Nigel Lutton, the son of a murdered RUC reservist, performed well.

Although a political novice, he took more than 34% of the by-election vote, almost 2% more than the combined total of both parties in 2010.

But Mid Ulster is pact-free this time with MLA Sandra Overend for the Ulster Unionists battling DUP Assembly member Ian McCrea - a straight repeat of each party's 2010 candidates.

Mr McCrea has lamented the lack of a pact and called it "unfortunate" that there are four unionists in the field.

So it would be a major upset if Mr Molloy, who won 47% of the vote in the by-election, were to be unseated.

Mr McGuinness had reigned supreme since his 1997 breakthrough and the Belfast Telegraph's polling partner, LucidTalk, has called Molloy a "racing certainty".

The two main unionists are likely to cancel each other out, while the TUV's Gareth Ferguson, a self-employed joiner from Moneymore, hopes to improve his party's share from last year's double European and council elections.

Relative newcomer Malachy Quinn, for the SDLP - replacing Patsy McGlone on the Westminster ticket - is hoping to build on his local government result last year when he won a seat on the new Mid Ulster 'super council'.

A full-time health worker, the 28-year-old Coalisland man, who has a Masters degree in politics, joined the party 10 years ago and has said he will not take the £69,000 salary of an MP if he is elected.

Eric Bullick, who stood for Alliance in the by-election, is their candidate again but the party rarely scores much above a 2% share of the vote.

Mid Ulster is an area where 20% of the population has a long-term health problem or disability.

The main local issues include a lack of social housing, jobs, the spending cuts already hitting the area's infrastructure, education, healthcare and public transport.

The council's controversial ban on the sale of poppies is also a topic on the doorsteps. Broadband is also a major local talking point.

Belfast Telegraph

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