The DUP candidate for the forthcoming West Tyrone by-election has said that he believes he can convince enough Catholics in the area to vote for his strong pro-life stance to win the seat.
Thomas Buchanan, a sitting MLA, is standing for the DUP in the by-election triggered by the resignation of the sitting Sinn Féin MP Barry McElduff in January.
The other unionist standing in the election, Fermanagh and Omagh UUP councillor Chris Smyth, is calling for voters to back what he called “an alternative to the stalemate” and “inaction” of the DUP and Sinn Féin.
Last time around, in 2017, Sinn Féin achieved 22,000 votes in the overwhelmingly Catholic constituency – more than every other party combined.
Despite the odds against him, Thomas Buchanan believes “anger” following the social media post by Mr McElduff which led to his resignation (in which he balanced a loaf of Kingsmill bread on his head, on the date of the anniversary of the 1976 Kingsmills massacre) – coupled with the DUP’s stance on “moral issues” like abortion – could lead to an upset.
“We are the only people capable of unseating Sinn Féin and we are the party that stands strong on a lot of moral issues that, at this moment in time, are raising issues with Roman Catholic voters because of a change in policy within Sinn Féin,” Mr Buchanan said.
In 2015, Sinn Féin changed its abortion policy to allow terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
It has also supported a ‘yes’ vote in a forthcoming referendum in the Republic of Ireland which would see the state’s strict abortion laws liberalised – a stance which contrasts sharply with that of the Catholic Church.
Thomas Buchanan said: “I do believe that strong stance that I take and that my party takes will be attractive to voters from outside the unionist family.”
He said the death of his nine-year-old son to a brain tumour in 2002 has informed his pro-life position.
“I had a child who I then lost and what that did was show me not only the preciousness of life – the joy that a child brings into the home and then the pain if that life is taken away. New life brings joy into a home and it is precious.”
Mr Buchanan said the “anger” which followed Barry McElduff’s video could also have an impact on the election.
“I believe it will have an impact on the vote that they (Sinn Féin) had the last time around,” he said.
In the wake of outrage about the video, Mr McElduff apologised for the hurt caused, but said he “had not realised or imagined for a second any possible link between product brand name and Kingsmill anniversary”.
The UUP’s Chris Smyth, meanwhile, said: “We are not getting our full compliment of representation at Stormont, or at Westminster. We are calling on people to consider a genuine change.”
The other candidates in the election, which will be held on May 3, are Sinn Féin’s Órfhlaith Begley, Alliance’s Stephen Donnelly, and the SDLP’s Daniel McCrossan.