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Constituency profile: Mid Ulster

WHAT’S THE STORY?

The Mid Ulster constituency has been a launch pad in Sinn Fein’s post-ceasefire electoral surge.

Since Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness unseated the DUP’s William McCrea as MP for the area in 1997, the republican party has made significant gains at all levels of government.

Once again, Mid Ulster could prove to be vital in the future fortunes of the party as it battles to become the largest in the Assembly. The party has three MLAs — Martin McGuinness, Francie Molloy and Michelle O’Neill. And while all three have thrown their name into the hat again this time around, the party has pitched veteran republican Ian Milne as a fourth candidate, as it strives to pick up an extra seat.

Mr Milne is currently a Sinn Fein councillor for Magherafelt and comes from the traditional party stable.

While Sinn Fein is almost |certain to hold on to its three |existing seats, the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone should have little to worry about either.

The SDLP deputy leader has a strong personal vote in the loughshore area and has continued to build on his reputation since snatching his seat from party colleague Denis Haughey in 2003.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

While all may appear well on the nationalist side of the fence, the battle within unionism is certain to cut up rough. Over the last decade the unionist share of the vote has continued to shrink in Mid Ulster.

An added dynamic in the fight for unionist domination in the constituency is the presence of the TUV’s Walter Millar.

Millar took 2,995 (7.3%) of the vote cast in 2010 and will expect to be in the thick of the battle.

Outgoing MLA Billy Armstrong’s decision to bow out of the Assembly could yet have a bearing on who will come out on

top within unionism.

The veteran Ulster Unionist has been replaced on the ticket by his daughter Sandra Overend.

While reflecting the attractive young face of Tom Elliott’s party, Mrs Overend’s profile doesn’t match that of her father, despite standing for the ill-fated Tory/ Unionist coalition in last year’s Westminster election, when she polled 4,509 (11.0%) of the votes.

The DUP’s Ian McCrea would be considered a strong candidate, helped not least by the family name. As son of DUP firebrand Rev William McCrea, the younger man was brought up in environment steeped in politics. He’ll be ready for Millar’s challenge.



VERDICT

Unionists: the Next Generation — Ulster Unionist Sandra Overend faces an uphill struggle to retain her father’s seat, while for the DUP’s Ian McCrea has a strong chance, although the party’s vote is also diminishing. With a strong core vote built up over the years, SDLP deputy leader Patsy McGlone is likely to retain his seat but the prospect of a fourth seat for Sinn Fein cannot be ruled out.

OUTGOING MEMBERS OF THE ASSEMBLY

(Asterix denotes they are running again)

*Martin McGuinness MP (SF) 8065 (18.2%)

Ian McCrea (DUP) 7608 (17.2%)

* Francie Molloy (SF) 6597 (14.9%)|* Michelle O'Neill (SF) 6432 (14.5%)

*Patsy McGlone (SDLP) 4976 (11.2%)

Billy Armstrong (UUP) 4781 (10.8%)

2010 SHARE OF THE VOTE COMPARED TO 2007

Sinn Fein 52.0% (47.6%)

DUP 14.4% (19.5%)

SDLP 14.3% (17.5%)

UCUNF 11.0% (10.8%)

TUV 7.3% (N/A)

Alliance 1.0% (0.5%)

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