WHILE the story of recent elections right across the North has been one of Sinn Fein and the DUP relentlessly gaining ground, they might not have it all their own way in north Fermangh where the Ulster Unionists especially have two strong incumbents seeking re-election.
In particular Raymond Farrell has been a high profile and effective councillor with a strong base in the Ballinamallard/Irvinestown area while Rosemary Barton is well-established in the Kesh/Ederney domain.
Although the SDLP are traditionally strong in Erne North they will no doubt miss the influence of Irvinestown veteran councillor John O’Kane, although in Mulleek’s John Coyle they may feel they have a ready made replacement in an area where they might feel they still haven’t adequately replaced Tommy Gallagher.
His running mate is Paul Blake whose family own the Blakes of the Hollow pub in Enniskillen.
Long-standing Sinn Fein councillor Stephen Huggett is not running, but the party will be still aiming to get both of their candidates in.
Belleek’s John Feely seems a natural replacement for Huggett capturing his support base in the north-west of the county, while Enniskillen man Peter Jones is also running in Erne North.
The DUP, meanwhile, will be banking on getting at least one of their runners elected with Kesh’s David Mahon Jr and James Fleming in the mix.
While Sinn Fein will almost certainly increase their share of the vote they may do well to get both candidates elected.
The likelihood is that all four of the main parties will have one councillor elected with Rosemary Barton’s seat looking vulnerable.
That said, the Traditional Unionist Voice have a well-known candidate here in Alex Elliott who might take enough votes away from the DUP to allow the Ulster Unionists to regain two seats. Elliott, a cousin of Ulster Unionist MLA Tom, might also take enough votes from both unionist parties to allow a second Sinn Fein councillor in.
The big imponderable is just how well Sinn Fein will do, and while traditionally north Fermanagh hasn’t been their strongest area, they are still very much a party on the up, especially with younger nationalist voters.
With the vagaries of PR in the mix, a second seat for Sinn Fein is by no means out of the question.
It will almost certainly come down to how votes transfer and nobody does transfers better than Sinn Fein.
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