We expected it at the weekend, but terms have been agreed that a single unionist candidate will run in Fermanagh South Tyrone. The candidate in question is the former Chief Executive of Fermanagh District Council, Rodney Connor. Slugger understands he will take the Tory whip on all matters not relating to the constituency. At which point he reserves the right to vote as he pleases. He will not be a member of the Unionist and Conservative alliance, and in that sense it represents a technical breach of David Cameron’s promise to run in every constituency in the United Kingdom. In effect though it will make an easy saunter home for Michelle Gildernew pretty tight. Expect Sinn Fein to pressure SDLP candidate Ferghal McKinney to turn this contest into a classic sectarian headcount race, 1980s style. His people say, no, we will be running in all 18 constituencies. Now, we’ve heard that one before. Let’s see just who’s serious about post sectarian politics?
Update below the fold: Statement from Rodney Connor Update 2: Ferghal McKinney, the SDLP candidate is giving a press conference at 12 noon…
“Today I am announcing as a candidate for the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. I want to be a voice for the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone at Westminster.
Through my work, over the years I believe that I have already demonstrated a proven track record of delivering in the constituency for people from right across the community. I know what Fermanagh and South Tyrone needs and I believe that I am well equipped to help deliver it.
Now more than ever it is essential that Fermanagh and South Tyrone has representation at Westminster. At a time of financial difficulties and recession it is vital that a constituency so far geographically removed from Westminster has its voice and influence maximised in the House of Commons.
While, if elected, I would sit as an independent, I am prepared to accept the Conservative Party whip. However on matters affecting Northern Ireland I shall vote on the basis of what I believe is in the best interests of the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.”
Commenting after a meeting of the Fermanagh and South Tyrone DUP Association on Thursday evening where the Party unanimously endorsed Rodney Connor, the DUP’s Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Arlene Foster said,
I am delighted by the news that Rodney Connor has indicated that he is willing to stand as an independent candidate in the General Election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. This follows many weeks of discussions and negotiations and represents a good and potentially historic day for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and for unionism.
When unionism is divided unionism is weakened. I have no doubt that Fermanagh and South Tyrone can set the example for other areas in Northern Ireland to follow.
The DUP has always made it clear that we are prepared to step aside in the event that an independent unionist candidate could be agreed. I have no doubt that Rodney Connor is such a candidate and I give him my, and my partys wholehearted and unqualified support.
I have known Rodney Connor for many years and know him to be of the utmost integrity and of the highest character. I have no doubt he can galvanise the votes of those who want to see Fermanagh and South Tyrone represented at Westminster. The next few weeks will see Rodney Connor take his campaign to every part of the constituency. I will be delighted to be part of that campaign.
I hope that after May 6th Fermanagh and South Tyrone can again have its voice heard at Westminster. This would give an enormous boost to the entire unionist community.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty