By-election update: Mid Ulster

by Jackie_South on February 17, 2013

Mid Ulster mapWith all the media attention focusing in on the Eastleigh by-election, the human drama of the by-election the following week (7 March) in Northern Ireland is being largely overlooked on this side of the Irish Sea.

The Mid Ulster contest, caused by Martin McGuinness’s resignation to concentrate on his role as Deputy First Minister, has been pending for a long time: it is four months since I posted my by-election special about the constituency.  McGuinness had first announced his intention to resign back in June.

He finally resigned on 30 December, although the House of Commons still went through the procedural nonsense of appointing him as Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead to put this into effect, as they had previously done in ‘giving‘ Gerry Adams the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds.

Sinn Fein start out as favourites: McGuinness won 52% of the vote in 2010.  They have chosen Coalisland man Francie Molloy, currently one of the members of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the constituency.

Molloy, a former IRA man like McGuinness, is a controversial choice.  In 2007, DUP MP David Simpson used Parliamentary privilege to name Molloy as a suspect in the murder of a police reservist, Eric Lutton, in 1979.  Simpson was a cousin of Lutton and also alleged that Molloy was a police informer, compromised by sexual indiscretions.

This has prompted the DUP and UUP to run a Unionist Unity candidate: Lutton’s son Nigel Lutton.   The DUP came second in 2010, but were a long way behind on 14.4%.  Even combining the votes of the DUP, UUP and Traditional Unionist Voice only totals 32.7%, 7,859 votes behind Sinn Fein.  But in a by-election, this might be enough to make things close.

Molloy’s been waspish in his response to Lutton’s candidature: on Friday he called for his accusers to say so in public, the equivalent of saying “dare you to say that outside”.

But things have not been straight forward on the Unionist side.  Moderate UUP members Basil McCrea and John McCallister resigned in protest, seeing the Unionist Unity candidature as sectarian and provocative to Catholics.

The SDLP and Alliance Party are also standing candidates: the SDLP candidate is Cookstown-based assembly member Patsy McGlone and  the Alliance man is Eric Bullick.

But it is the human drama over that murder 34 years ago that will play the central role in this election as Lutton and Molloy slug it out.

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