Local MLAs gear up for ‘judgement day’ election

Could we see all the same candidates back at the polls?
Could we see all the same candidates back at the polls?
  • Martin McGuinness resigned on Monday forcing Arlene Foster’s hand
  • If no one replaces him within seven days an election will be called by Secretary of State James Brokenshire
  • It takes six weeks to run an election

‘Hurtling towards an election’ following McGuinness’s resignation, all but one of Mid Ulster’s MLAs has welcomed the chance for the public to ‘judge’ RHI at the polls.

Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein have laid the blame for the “debacle” Northern Ireland now finds itself in firmly at the feet of DUP leader Arlene Foster, while UUP representative Sandra Overend said both Sinn Fein and the DUP had put their parties before the electorate.

Mid Ulster's Sinn Fein MLAs said 
former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness did the right thing. 
Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

Mid Ulster's Sinn Fein MLAs said former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness did the right thing. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

But local representatives have rallied to their leaders’ defence.

Speaking of Martin McGuinness’s decision to step down, forcing Mrs Foster’s resignation, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill said he did the right thing.

“Over the last 10 years Martin McGuinness has led the Executive with a commitment to equality and fairness that has not been matched by those within Unionism,” Ms O’Neill said.

“The latest scandal involving DUP Ministers is just one of a number of issues that has caused a lack of public trust. This has to be resolved.”

Former First Minister Arlene Foster said she is now open to talks with Sinn Fein.
 Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker 27/10/2016

Former First Minister Arlene Foster said she is now open to talks with Sinn Fein. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker 27/10/2016

But recently elected DUP MLA Keith Buchanan said he is “fully behind Arlene Foster”. “She has conducted herself with the utmost integrity and is not guilty of any wrong doing,” he said. “The calls for her to step aside are ludicrous and were merely based on spin.”

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone disagrees.

He said: “We are now hurtling toward an election and there is only one reason for it – Arlene Foster’s insurmountable arrogance.

“If an election is the only way we can dilute that arrogance, then so be it,” he said. “Everyone in this constituency now has an opportunity to cast their judgment on this government (and) the RHI scandal.”

“A snap election is not necessarily a crisis,” added Mrs Overend. “With an election comes the opportunity for the electorate to turn out, pass judgement on the status quo, and vote for change.”

‘Snap election’

Political parties in Mid Ulster are gearing up for a snap election following the decision of Martin McGuinness to resign from the Assembly in protest at the handling of the RHI scheme.

Although Sinn Fein and the DUP were being urged on Monday to enter talks to resolve their differences and save the Stormont institutions, party workers preparing for the hustings.

If there is no breakthrough in the coming days, Secretary of State James Brokenshire is expected call an election, probably for a date in March.

Just last February Mr McGuinness was replaced in Mid Ulster by Linda Dillon who was then Chair of Mid Ulster Council.

It’s only seven months since the electorate made their way to the polls to return the present Assembly.

And with the number of MLAs elected set to be reduced by 18, the anticipated election is set to be fiercely contested.

The predominantly nationalist constituency of Mid Ulster has six MLAs - three Sinn Fein, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP and 1 DUP - will lose one seat under the new system.

Political pundits are saying Sinn Fein - (who bagged 47.7 per cent of first preference votes last time round) will lose a seat, but the fallout generated by the RHI saga could send voters to different camps and a Unionist MLA could find themselves in difficulties.

Last time round the DUP fielded two candidates - Ian McCrea and Keith Buchanan, with Buchanan triumphing in count ten.

Whether Mr McCrea will be tempted back into the political cauldrum, perhaps as an independent, remains to be seen.

There is a strong possibility that Jim Allister’s TUV will field a runner in the event of an election given Hannah Loughrin’s respectable vote last May.

Certainly there will be a nail-biting battle in respect of the last two seats in each of the constituencies.

Mid Ulster constituency, as usual, will throw up a fascinating battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate who remain politically engaged despite the frequency of elections.

In his resignation letter to Stormont speaker Robin Newton, Mr McGuinness states: “The First Minister has refused to stand aside, without prejudice, pending a preliminary report from an investigation.

“That position is not credible or tenable. Therefore it is with deep regret and reluctance that I am tendering my resignation as Deputy First Minister with effect from 5pm on Monday, 9 January 2017.

“I have urged Arlene Foster to stand aside without prejudice to ensure confidence in the necessary investigation and in the wider public interest. These institutions only have value if they enjoy the confidence and support of the people they were established to serve.

“They only have meaning if are delivering fairly for all our people based on the principles of equality and mutual respect on which they were founded.

”Over the last 10 years I have worked with DUP leaders and reached out to unionists on the basis of equality, respect and reconciliation. Over this period the actions of the British government and the DUP have undermined the institutions and eroded public confidence

”Sinn Féin will not tolerate the arrogance of Arlene Foster and the DUP. Sinn Féin wants equality and respect for all. That is what this process must be about. Today I tendered my resignation.Today is the right time to call a halt to the DUP’s arrogance. There will be no return to the status quo.”