As well as sharing a border with the other wards in the Fermanagh Omagh District Council, Erne West shares a border with the Republic of Ireland. A border that has been much discussed in recent months as Brexit has unfolded. Indeed, some of the major villages within this ward have been frequently visited by politicians during the Brexit negotiations includin leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg who visited Belcoo in June 2018. The ward is heavily associated with agriculture and according to NISRA it is the smallest ward in the North in terms of population with an estimated 14,900 people residing in this rural ward across many small villages and hamlets. This 5 seat ward perhaps could answer numerous questions on how the border community are reacting to uncertainty surrounding Brexit, RHI and the lack of devolved government.
As it stand Erne West has two Sinn Féin councillors: Anthony Feeley and outgoing councillor Barry Doherty. One Ulster Unionist councillor Alex Baird, one SDLP councillor Brendan Gallagher who is also outgoing and Independent councillor Bernice Swift. Swift previously sat as a Sinn Féin councillor from 2005 until 2008 before resigning the party and choosing to remain on the council as an independent.
As in 2014 Sinn Féin are running three candidates and hoping to return three following on from the success of the 2017 Assembly Election where Fermanagh South Tyrone elected three Sinn Féin MLA’s. Two Councillors will be safe and return to FODC; Anthony Feeley is likely to retain his seat for another term with the dog-fight for the second seat being fought between new candidates Fionnuala Leonard and Chris McCaffrey. Leonard may have the edge based on Sinn Féin vote management system but McCaffrey’s anti-Brexit activism cannot be overlooked in securing votes from across the ward from those who don’t adhere to SF’s vote management system.
The third seat that Sinn Féin is interested in securing is perhaps the one currently occupied by the SDLP. Brendan Gallagher is stepping down from council this year with new-face Adam Gannon aiming to maintain the SDLP’s seat in Erne West. A recent graduate, Gannon has been a political activist for several years. Erne West is not his home ward so the SDLP’s decision to run a candidate from outside the ward is quite interesting but dyed in the wool SDLP voters will support Gannon, who is from Irvinestown regardless. The SDLP will be facing a hard battle in this council election following on from several resignations during the last council term from across FODC with former SDLP councillors Dr Josephine Deehan and Joanne Donnelly both resigning from the SDLP and returning as independents. They will again contest the Omagh ward elections as independents.
Alex Baird (UUP) and Bernice Swift (Ind) and are on track to retain their seats after both returned to council in 2014 with 1,619 (23.4%) and 1,195 (17.3%) votes behind them respectively. The DUP and Carol Johnston will be attempting to capitalise on the UUP’s declining vote across the province but are unlikely to knock Baird out. Trevor Armstrong is running as an Independent and will perhaps make a dent in the votes of all the parties running on a cross-community independent ticket but is unlikely to gain a seat. Transfers from his voters are what is likely to make the difference for the fifth seat on council as the SDLP and the 3rd Sinn Féin candidate fight for the final seat.
Victoria Johnston is a student and freelance writer from Enniskillen. She has written for a wide variety of outlets including The Impartial Reporter, The Tyrone Herald and Fly By Those Nets. She tweets at @V_toriaJohnston