Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Profile Number 4 - West Tyrone

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West Tyrone is the newest constituency, being created at the 1995 boundary review. Consisting of the entire districts of Omagh and Strabane, it was taken almost entirely from the old Mid-Ulster, then still represented by William McCrea. A little bit of Strabane District was taken from the old Foyle. The seat had a significant Nationalist majority, but was won against the odds by William Thompson (UUP) at the 1997 General Election, after the SDLP and Sinn Fein polled a similar number of votes each. As an aside, Thompson had been the last UUP candidate to contest the old Mid-Ulster back in 1983, when he polled poorly against McCrea. Thompson was avowedly anti-Belfast Agreement after 1998 and proved a major thorn in David Trimble's side. In 2001, despite being the sole Unionist candidate, his vote actually went down by about 1,500 and he was defeated by then Sinn Fein Vice-President Pat Doherty, who holds the seat still. The SDLP were roundly humiliated on that occasion, coming third in a three horse race after foolishly talking up their chances. At the 2003 Assembly election, West Tyrone produced a major shock by electeing Independent candidate Dr Kieran Deeny on the first count (Deeny was a single issue candidate, fighting to keep Tyrone County Hospital in Omagh open; he failed). In 2005, Deeny came second to Doherty, polling almost 12,000 votes. On that occasion, the UUP were utterly destroyed in the constituency, coming last in the pack and polling fewer than 3,000 votes. The DUP, in the form of Thomas Buchanan MLA, outpolled us considerably. In 2007, things reached a nadir, when we lost our Assembly seat here to the DUP's second candidate. The SDLP also lost their Assembly seat here, but then they ran a masterclass on how not to fight a PR-STV election; three candidates fighting for one seat and terrible balancing meant they actually polled over a quota of first preferences but failed to hold their seat, losing to Sinn Fein's third candidate.

Since then though, the West Tyrone UUP Association has been reinvigorated. Despite losing their MLA, they've kept the office in Omagh open, produce a regular newsletter and hold surgeries across the constituency. They deserve real credit for this, and I often wonder how many people across the party are aware of the massive effort required on the part of many people in the constituency? This time out, we are running former RUC officer and Omagh councillor Ross Hussey, obviously with an eye to regaining the Assembly seat. Hussey is a good guy who deserves to do very well- he came to national attention in 2009, when a mocked up election leaflet playing on his alleged resemblance to Family Guy character Peter Griffin was publicised. He will face off against the fairly low-profile Pat Doherty, the now ex-Sinn Fein Vice President. Hussey's Unionist competition will come from his fellow Omagh councillor and DUP MLA since 2003, Thomas Buchanan. The TUV are not running here. The SDLP, obviously without an MLA here as well and with a quickly declining voter base, are running former councillor and MLA Joe Byrne. Byrne was the SDLP candidate narrowly defeated by Thompson in 1997. Alliance, somewhat unusually, are running a candidate with some local roots in this far from key constituency for them, a chap named Michael Bower, the former Chair of Young Alliance. He was educated in Omagh and lived in the town for a few years. The great question in West Tyrone is where will Kieran Deeny's 11,000+ votes from 2005 go to? Many of them were undoubtedly from the SDLP and the Unionist parties, so it will be interesting to see if they return to their natural 'homes.'

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