General Election 2017: Titanic battle in Fermanagh & S Tyrone

The lakelands of Co Fermanagh
The lakelands of Co Fermanagh

Outgoing MP Tom Elliott says he has defied commentators once before to win the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Westminster seat – and can do so again in 2017.

Sinn Fein and unionists have been engaged in an escalating battle here since at least 2005, with votes on each side climbing at a steady rate.

Nobody will forget the drama of 2010 when Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew snatched victory by four votes from independent unionist Rodney Connor.

Then in 2015 UUP man Tom Elliott took the seat back for unionists with a majority of only 530 votes.

Mr Elliott does not give much credence to claims that Sinn Fein are marginal favourites this time around.

“Every commentator bar none said that two years ago,” he said. “Not one suggested I could win.”

His trump card against the abstentionist Sinn Fein, he says, is that it is vital to have real representation in Westminster, particularly during Brexit.

The DUP has stood aside for him in Fermanagh while the UUP has stepped aside for that party in north Belfast.

Unlike the assembly elections in the area, in which the SDLP vote is increasing, the party has seen steep decline in Westminster support since 1997.

But SDLP candidate Mary McGarrity denies her party’s supporters have been “lending” their vote to Sinn Fein.

“People want to vote for me but there is a fear... fear that it is a two-horse race,” she said.

The constituency voted to remain in the EU last June by 58.6% to 41.4% – one of 11 seats to have seen a majority pro-EU result.

Pro-EU Sinn Fein has said that, as a border constituency, “Brexit is a huge issue in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and people realise how disastrous it would be”.

Candidates for 2017:

• Noreen Campbell, Alliance

• Tom Elliott, UUP

• Mary Garrity, SDLP

• Michelle Gildernew, Sinn Fein

• Tanya Jones, Green Party

2015 general election results:

Tom Elliott (UUP): 23,608 (46.4%)

M Gildernew (SF): 23,078 (45.4%)

J Coyle (SDLP): 2,732 (5.4%)

T Jones (Green): 788 (1.5%)

H Su (Alliance): 658 (1.3%)

Electorate: 70,108

Turnout: 51,152 (73%)

Combined unionist vote: 46.4% (only one unionist candidate)

2010 general election result:

Michelle Gildernew (Sinn Féin): 21,304 (45.5%)

R Connor (Ind.):21,300 (45.5%)

F McKinney(SDLP): 3,574 (7.6%)

V Kamble (Alliance): 437 (0.9%)

J Stevenson (Ind.): 188 (0.4%)

Electorate: 67,908

Turnout: 47,066 (69.3%)

Combined unionist vote: 45.5% (just as in 2015, the two main unionist parties agreed a unity candidate to try and win the seat).