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Michelle Gildernew's political future in doubt after Sinn Fein prefers Flanagan to fight Fermanagh

By Nevin Farrell

Published 01/02/2016

Michelle Gildernew
Michelle Gildernew

Former Stormont minister Michelle Gildernew's political career appears to be over after she failed to be selected by Sinn Fein to contest May's Assembly election.

However, outspoken Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan has been chosen as a candidate after the party ordered a re-run of the selection process.

Ms Gildernew had initially been selected in December to run for her party in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, but then failed to get the nod at last night's re-run.

In December, Ms Gildernew, current MLA Sean Lynch and local councillor John Feely were selected by the party, which meant controversial sitting MLA Mr Flanagan lost out.

However, in an unusual twist, the party's Ard Chomhairle ordered a new vote and in Enniskillen last night Mr Flanagan emerged as one of the party's three candidates, along with Mr Lynch and Mr Feely.

The other candidates in the process - Ms Gildernew and current MLA Bronwyn McGahan - failed to secure enough backing from around 150 party members. Ms McGahan, from Killeshill in Co Tyrone, was co-opted in 2012 after Ms Gildernew stepped down from the Assembly to concentrate on her role as an MP.

However, after losing out to the Ulster Unionist Party's Tom Elliott in last year's Westminster election, the former Agriculture Minister announced her intention to seek a return to Stormont.

Ms Gildernew famously won her Westminster seat by a margin of just four votes in 2010, before losing out to Mr Elliott.

Mr Flanagan, meanwhile, was thrown a lifeline by Sinn Fein after its leadership agreed to hold another selection convention in Fermanagh.

Sinn Fein had declared the December selection vote void.

Mr Flanagan - who had been involved in some controversy recently - is now back in the fold.

Sinn Fein's official Twitter feed confirmed its selection with a tweeted photo.

Mr Feely, from Belleek, Co Fermanagh, is currently a councillor on Fermanagh & Omagh District Council.

Five people had been seeking the three Sinn Fein nominations in the constituency.

The party's first effort in December to pick the three candidates to go forward resulted in Mr Flanagan being de-selected.

But then in January, Sinn Fein confirmed it would re-run the selection process, and Mr Flanagan threw his hat back in the ring.

Although the party has kept tight-lipped over the reason for the repeat, there were reports of an apparent discrepancy over the final tally at the first meeting.

One source said two votes went missing on the night and Mr Flanagan lost out by a narrow margin at that meeting.

Mr Flanagan got into trouble last year for comments he made on Twitter about Mr Elliott. He was ordered to pay libel damages to the MP for falsely suggesting he had harassed and shot people. He also apologised and costs were awarded.

Ms McGahan had announced she would not be seeking re-election ahead of the first selection convention - but she then put her name forward for the second.

Meanwhile, Michelle Gildernew's future remains unclear.

In the 2015 Westminster election she lost the seat by 530 votes to Mr Elliott, despite almost no change in her percentage share of the vote and an increase in the number of her votes by 1,774 votes.

There has been speculation that she could be selected to run in Mid Ulster after Martin McGuinness announced he will be seeking a seat in his home constituency of Foyle.

However, last night Ms Gildernew appeared to rule out a move, tweeting: "For the record to those of you speculating tonight, Mid Ulster has excellent candidates to replace Martin McGuinness and my heart's in Fermanagh South Tyrone."

Belfast Telegraph

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