In a conversation with independent West Tyrone MLA Kieran Deeny this week, he revealed that he has been approached by a number of people from various constituencies considering running for next year’s Assembly elections under the independent banner.
First approached six months ago, he confirmed that he has already held talks with a number of these people in previous weeks and was set to meet two more this week. None are sitting MLAs, but from what I could gather most are from constituencies west of the Bann.
“There are number of people outside West Tyrone saying to me that the solutions are all Belfast focused and people are now asking for a voice, there’s a lot of people who don’t vote and who want a voice outside the main political parties.
I don’t mean people who have left parties and then called themselves independents, I mean true cross-community independents. Both traditions have spoken to me about this.
“The idea would be to focus on their own areas but work as a group within the Assembly.”
He said there was potential to draw up a number of shared polices adding, “The more MLAs you have, the greater voice you have in the Assembly.”
“I have been approached, I haven’t instigated this. There is a lot of untapped vote out there, people are not voting. Whether it will ever come off I don’t know, because it’s very hard to get elected as an independent. “
There is of course a huge untapped vote out there, as Alan in Belfast’s post yesterday clearly illustrated. But mobilising that vote around an independent is no easy task. Deeny was able to avail of the campaign infrastructure set up around the hospital campaign in Omagh. Can other independents fund a successful campaign? Are the personalities strong enough?
The elected GP sits alongside the Green Party’s Brian Wilson and Alliance as a ‘United Community’ MLA, a group of nine Assembly members which David Ford claims to lead. It remains to be seen whether the prospect of a crop of new independent MLAs would bolster such a group, or eat into its vote.
Meanwhile Dr Deeny said that he would wait until the December meeting of his constituency team to decide whether or not he will defend his Assembly seat. However he did almost certainly confirm that if he doesn’t run, another independent would run in his place.
“I’m still in two minds, it’s a lot like the Westminster scenario, but there’s a lot more people who feel I should run for the Assembly.
A number of people feel I should defend my seat, but there’s a lot of things I have to take on board including my position as a GP. That has been my bread and butter for the last 30 years.
I would be pretty certain that if I don’t stand there somebody else who will stand as an independent. I don’t mean independent nationalists or unionists or those who have left parties because of disagreements, we’re talking about true independents who will attract votes across the community.”