West Tyrone’s independent MLA Dr Kieran Deeny may have decided to step down from the Assembly, but I can reveal that there will be at least one independent candidate standing in the constituency.
Speaking to Omagh District Councillor McGowan on Wednesday afternoon for a story that ran in today’s Ulster Herald, he confirmed that he will “definitely” run for the Assembly.
A well known public figure in the Omagh District, McGowan has sat on Omagh District Council since 1985 and has spent over 40 years between the Fire Service and the Bus Service.
There will be no love lost between Cllr McGowan and the SDLP’s sole West Tyrone candidate Joe Byrne. McGowan was a member of the SDLP up until 1998, elected along with Joe Byrne to the 1996 Forum, however he parted ways with the party with some suggestion that he felt the SDLP had become too nationalist. He stood unsuccessfully in 1998 as an Independent Community Candidate, polling 1,269 votes.
Although Cllr McGowan states he will continue to lobby for an enhanced hospital for Omagh (a new £190 million project with no acute services), he confirmed that he will not run under Deeny’s Tyrone County Health Coalition banner. From speaking to some members of the coalition, McGowan should enjoy their support, but there is a lot of fatigue in the campaign and frustration at the inability of an independent to influence policy in any meaningful way.
In bowing out, Deeny has aimed most of his own frustration in the direction of the four main parties and their refusal at a leadership level to back the campaign for an acute hospital in Omagh. Local MLAs did back calls for the retention of acute services in Omagh, but Deeny wasn’t well liked among the main parties and his voice on the hill was typically a lonely one.
With the SDLP only fielding one candidate, McGowan’s chances aren’t great. He has a fairly solid base in Omagh, but the hospital issue won’t galvanize people the way it did in 2003. Deeny just about got in in 2007. However Sinn Fein’s decision to run four candidates may allow for a unlikely upset.
There is also a remote possibility that the Alternative A5 Alliance may field an Assembly candidate in the guise of Ciaran McClean, who ran as an independent in last year’s General Election.