By Catherine McCurry
MICHELLE GILDERNEW is warning voters that every last vote counts and claims the turnout within unionism will be higher in this year’s general election because, she claims, the Orange Order is playing a key role in mobilising support for her main rival, the UUP’s Tom Elliott.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone usually has an exceptionally high turnout and the candidates and their parties recognise the significance of mobilising votes for a successful outcome.
The Sinn Fein MP doesn’t believe there is a complacency within nationalism but claims that unionists have rejected an agreed unionist candidate in the past and believes they will do the same again this time around.
And the current MP also argues that her party will lose out on hundreds of votes because of immigration – votes that could cost Sinn Fein their seat.
“I think the turnout this time will be much higher on the unionist side because of the work that the Orange Order has been doing in terms of getting people registered, postal and proxy and all of that,” she explained.
“Orange halls have been filled with people and activists for weeks.
“I do expect the turnout to be higher but I know a lot of people who said that’s not what I want to be voting for and didn’t vote for the unity candidate in 2010.
“I don’t think the turnout has much to do with apathy but more to do with the fact that people do reject the pacts. We will have an impact on nationalist turnout because of the number of people who are away,” she added.
Sinn Fein is criticised by other parties for not taking their seats in Westminster. She describes her party as “active abstentionists” and to those who might ask how she hopes to represent constituents without sitting in parliament she says she has “no bother” filling her time.
The mother-of-three carries a book filled with constituency issues that all have correlating numbers.
When asked how she resolves local issues she said: “It’s about setting up a meeting and going over there. There’s work that I can do in London where I don’t need to take my seat and my constituents are better off for it.”
Her work as a MP sees her travelling to Dublin to work on the joint implementation committee on the GFA (Good Friday Agreement) and visiting Stormont for meetings with ministers and MLAs. She travels to London a couple of times a month for meetings with others MPs, trade unions and Irish community representatives in Britain.
She added: “The last four years has been a struggle against austerity. DUP voters have come to us asking for help. People and businesses are finding it difficult. Every community here has been impacted by immigration and families here want to secure jobs for their children.
“The other priority is fracking and the anxiety that has caused and continues to cause people in Fermanagh and Leitrim.”
Asked about recent sex abuse controversies which have led to widespread criticism of Sinn Fein, Ms Gildernew admitted that the party could have handled alleged IRA sex abuse cases better but doesn’t believe it was a thorn in the party’s side when it comes to voters.
“It hasn’t come up on any of the doorsteps that I can recall,” she said.
“I get very troubled by victims who are used to further someone else’s agenda and without naming names I think it’s awful when a victim is wheeled out to make a case and put in front of the world’s media until they have served their purpose.”
Is the current MP hoping for a third lucky win over a unionist pact? “I hope so,” she adds.
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