Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: No earthquake, but there could be minor tremors

By Suzanne Breen

History can be made in by-elections. The best have been cliff-hangers with the candidates slugging it out on the campaign trail followed by a sensational, nerve-wracking count.

Not this one. Tonight, all those who gather in Omagh Leisure Centre as ballot boxes from across the constituency are opened will know the result long before the returning officer takes to the podium. Bar a miracle for her opponents, Orfhlaith Begley will be Sinn Fein's new West Tyrone MP.

There will be no earthquake, yet that doesn't mean minor tremors aren't possible. Attention will focus on how the Sinn Fein vote holds up with a candidate who hasn't performed strongly in broadcast media and seems robotic compared to her predecessor.

On paper, she appeared an ideal choice. But in the candidates' debate on BBC's The View last week, she sounded like she was repeating a script, and was labelled "the Stepford candidate". It will likely matter little. Sinn Fein currently has the wind in its sails and Ms Begley should romp home.

In Daniel McCrossan, the SDLP has a polished, able candidate with a big personality. His problem is his party's image. The SDLP is lumbered with the loser tag and it lacks a big issue. It hammers on about the importance of taking seats at Westminster but the battle in nationalism over that one is long over, and the SDLP lost.

If Sinn Fein is to shed any votes, it could be among older voters and over abortion, not abstentionism.

Although it's the first electoral test for the DUP post-Arlene Foster's RHI inquiry performance, the party isn't expecting to feel the heat. The inquiry's most explosive evidence will come in the autumn.

The UUP candidate, Councillor Chris Smyth, is a fresh, enthusiastic voice, but the DUP was miles ahead of its rival last June and the nature of politics here means unionist voters are likely to rally behind the biggest party. But they lack the numbers to stop the inevitable. At 1/100, Ms Begley is a dead cert.

Belfast Telegraph

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