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Fermanagh South Tyrone: a time for unionists to unite

Elections in Fermanagh and South Tyrone can be pretty grim affairs with the spectre of the sectarian head count never far away. There is a certain inevitability in this due to the relatively closely balanced sizes of the two communities and the fact that during the Troubles and indeed the Border Campaign, right back to the 1920s; Fermanagh and the neighbouring parts of Tyrone were stalked by terrorism. Michelle Gildernew has held the seat now for two terms and until the agreed unionist candidate was finally settled, it seemed inevitable that she would win for a third time. With Rodney Connor emerging as the united unionist candidate this certainty has evaporated and there is a real chance that the seat could revert to unionists.

Connor is a genuinely good candidate: originally from Castlederg (hopefully Fermanagh people will not hold that against him) and the former chief executive of Fermanagh council, in which post he had a track record of serving the whole community to a very high standard. It is difficult to characterise him as a bigot or a narrow sectional candidate. He has made a major issue of the need FST has for full time representation at Westminster and has been at pains to pledge to be a champion for the whole community.

Connor, having lived most of his life in Fermanagh and Tyrone must, however, know that however hard he tries to be an inclusive candidate and no matter how hard he works for the whole community if he is elected, the reality is that he is likely to gain the support of the overwhelming majority of unionist vote and very little of the nationalist vote. No matter how hard Rodney Connor tries and no matter how personally inclusive he is the simple fact is that this vote will come very close to the sectarian head counts of the past.

Sinn Fein have already shamelessly tried to make this a straight sectarian fight. In any other context it might be amusing for Michelle Gildernew to denounce Rodney Connor as “the sectarian candidate” and then go on to demand that the SDLP stand aside in order to make the fight a straight head count. If Rodney Connor was standing against a moderate nationalist there might be a degree of truth in her allegations. Rather Gildernew is the non representative of the people of FST at Westminster, she is the one who cannot stomach even attending the parliament to which she has been elected. More than that, however, to understand the sheer hypocrisy of Gildernew in calling Rodney Connor “the sectarian candidate” one has to remember that she is the one who has previously suggested that a future generation of Irish republicans might “have to”go back to violence, that people should not go to the police over certain crimes and who celebrates assorted terrorists. It is not Rodney Connor but Gildernew who supports the murder of Marie Wilson and the others on Remembrance Sunday and the attempt to wipe out the Protestant children at Tullyhommon. It is Michelle Gildernew not Rodney Connor who supports the murders of all those killed in Fermanagh by her friends in the IRA. If unionists wish to unite to end her career of sectarian non representation of FST then that decision is itself far from sectarian. For Sinn Fein to call it such is not the pot calling the kettle black but the cesspit calling the operating theatre unhygienic.

Unionists must not, however, think that Rodney Connor will win without effort. Sinn Fein will now pour considerable effort into holding FST. They will reason that if they can hold FST this time then it may be their’s for good. Some nationalists down here of course will baulk at voting for the cheerleader in chief which Gildernew is, but many will not, even some who normally vote SDLP. It is possible that the SDLP will make little enough effort either through design or more likely incompetence. Additionally it must be remembered that Gildernew won the first time when Garrison polling station was illegally forced to stay open after its closing time. Sinn Fein will not shrink from bending or breaking as many rules as it needs to win this seat.

Unionists are not all the same here in FST: we are of differing views; some will have very similar views to Rodney Connor, others less so. However, if we want to see FST represented at Westminster and if we want to roll back Sinn Fein’s much vaunted greening of the west, then everyone must help. That will mean that local unionists from all three of the parties must put effort into canvassing and helping Rodney Connor’s campaign. In addition the unionist parties should send some of their leading members down here to help Rodney’s campaign and direct some of their workers to come down to help. Sinn Fein will certainly be doing the same. Unionists in FST have suffered so much during the IRA’s campaign that they deserve no less than the fulsome support of unionists from outside the constituency.

Come down here, bury the election hatchets for the day and help get FST some representation.

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4 Responses

  1. st etienne says:

    From an outsider’s pov, Connor sounds like an excellent candidate and appears to me at least to have a greater competence than the former potential candidates. It would be a great thing for all of FST to see him elected, and again from my pov if things went well in his working relationship at Westminster – and from his experience at local government there appears no reason why not – I’d encourage him to join the Conservatives (and hopefully the government) proper further down the line.

    As you say though, first things first – the people of Fermanagh & South Tyrone need to be rallied.

  2. Darksider1 says:

    I met Rodney Connor in Dungannon the other night and he appears to be a sound man and deserving of support here in FST if for no other reason than to get some representation in Westminster for this remote constituency.
    My only slight concern is that the process of how constituents might feed into him post election is unclear. What part will the local UUP/DUP offices play in feeding concerns/issues into Mr Connor? Will we see Mr Connor as often in the ST bit of FST after the 6th May?

  3. Drumlin Rock says:

    Hi Darksider, have been working hard on getting Rodneys profile built up in South Tyrone, roughly 50% of his time is being spent canvasing here to make up for his Fermanagh base, I know from the ST UUPs point of view we will want to work closely with Rodney when hopefully he gets elected, at present for national & international issues Lord Maginnis helps out on many occasions over the water, but having a full time voice will be much better, hopefully Rodney will have an office up this end somewhere, but I for one will certainly be making sure South Tyrone is not forgotten! and I think the DUP will be doing likewise.

  4. […] to the security forces over certain crimes and has made a habit of glorifying assorted terrorists. As I said previously for unionists to unite to try to oust such an overwhelmingly sectarian figure was not itself […]

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