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Race for First Minister of interest, but not key

By Brendan McDaid and Noel McAdam

This week we asked our urban villagers how much it would matter to them if Martin McGuinness replaced Peter Robinson as First Minister, as could happen if Sinn Fein tops the poll.

Broadly speaking, nationalists in Culmore were unconcerned about the issue, but only two out of five unionists in the Village area of Belfast shared this view.

The other three unionists said that although they would be unhappy with a Sinn Fein First Minister, it would not completely determine how they would vote.

Last week none of them raised it as a concern when they were asked what was important in the election.

However, when they were specifically asked about the issue they said they were worried by it.

Anne Crowe, who works as a domestic in the City Hospital, was typical of the Belfast unionist respondents.

“I don’t honestly think that I could come to terms with an ex-terrorist dictating how the country would be run,” she said.

She quickly added: “It would influence how I would vote, but at the end of the day you have to move on, so I would look at other issues before I made up my mind.”

Her friend Sharon Stewart shared this view, while Tommy Wilson, a community worker, said he would be “very unhappy” to see the First Minister title going to Sinn Fein, but took a cynical view of both the big parties.

He said: “In my opinion neither Robinson nor McGuinness have done much good.”

Two other residents of the Village didn’t feel the issue was very important at all.

Gary Dowie, a joiner, said that if Mr McGuinness was good enough to be First Minister he “probably wouldn’t be too fussed”.

“If he does get enough votes then people want him in the job — that is democracy, at least as we have it here.”

Rosie White, a voluntary worker, was least concerned of all.

“I can understand that the person in the top office should come from the majority community, but to tell you the truth I don’t think it matters,” she said.

In Culmore, a mainly middle-class Catholic area which stretches from the outskirts of Derry to the border, the issue counted for very little when it came to determining voting intentions.

However, some were worried that politicians could use the issue to browbeat others.

Mary Casey, a community activist, pointed out that the DUP and Sinn Fein had been working together for 10 years.

She believed the real issue was not who would take which ministerial post, but whether the politicians were delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.

There was strong support in Culmore for the Belfast Telegraph manifesto highlighting issues like jobs, housing and health.

Barman Sean Casey (22) is considering emigrating to Australia because of a lack of opportunities at home.

“I know people that have already gone,” he said. “There are no opportunities here.”

Mary Boucher, also 22, said: “University fees are going up to £9,000 a year but lots of people still need a university education to help them move forward.

“If Magee University expands people will have the option of staying in the north west.

“Not everybody can afford to go away and some people also have responsibilities and may be caring for a relative, or have health problems which limit their ability to travel.”

Her father Peter, a retired teacher, felt that securing a cancer centre for the north west was one of the most important issues.

He also said that increasing access to integrated education should be a priority.

Background

Our focus groups on the election are drawn from two urban villages.

The areas reflect the political and religious diversity in Northern Ireland — and in terms of west and east of the Bann.

The first is the Village area of Belfast, a largely working-class Protestant area.

The second district is Culmore in Londonderry, a mostly Catholic middle-class area. Its name is from the old Culmore village, which lay four miles outside the city walls.

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