Northern Ireland Election 2016

NI assembly election: Fermanagh and South Tyrone set for another close contest

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Media captionFermanagh and South Tyrone has a history of dramatic, cliff-hanging election results

Fermanagh and South Tyrone provided one of the most dramatic results in last year's general election with Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott's surprise victory over Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew.

The constituency also had the closest contest in the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly election, when just 62 votes decided the final seat.

Since becoming Northern Ireland's first minister in January, the Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) Arlene Foster has brought a new style of leadership.

Despite her rise to the top of the political ladder, the people on the doorsteps in County Fermanagh still just call her Arlene.

They have been telling her they are concerned about health and education.

The £280m South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen, which opened in 2012, has struggled to fill vacant doctor and consultant posts.

Controversial school closures and amalgamations, particularly in the post-primary controlled sector, has left Mrs Foster believing "there's a big job of work to be done" in education.

Image caption Northern Ireland's first minister is simply known to many of her constituents as Arlene

Fermanagh and South Tyrone may be as far as you can get from the corridors of power at Stormont, but the DUP leader said: "I am determined that I'm going to be a first minister for the whole of Northern Ireland.

"I want to look at the whole of Northern Ireland, and whether that's in respect of infrastructure or health or education or people's budgets, the fact that we've kept household taxes low, all of those issues will have an impact right across Northern Ireland."

Practical

Sinn Féin won three assembly seats in 2011 and this year the party is fielding four candidates after Michelle Gildernew, the former MP and agriculture minister, was selected, then dropped, and then selected again.

Each candidate has divided up the constituency with their own posters that make no mention of their party's running-mates, but Mrs Gildernew said this was a practical move.

She said: "My name's massive - I mean, Gildernew - you'll want a good poster to fit it on!"

She said Sinn Féin does a lot of canvassing and will do its vote management on the doorsteps.

Image caption Michelle Gildernew is in the election running after being selected, dropped and then selected again

After what she described as an "unfortunate defeat" in the general election, she said the key thing was to be "a strong voice for Fermanagh South Tyrone".

Mrs Gildernew added that she believed the assembly is the place to get things done.

"There's still a lot of issues in this constituency, issues with broadband, with investment in our infrastructure, with our roads," she said.

"There's an awful lot of businesses still struggling, health is still a massive issue in this constituency, not just our primary and acute services but our mental health services, so there's an awful, awful lot to be done."

Aim

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) is hoping to win back the seat it lost by just 62 votes in the final count five years ago.

The party did well in the last local elections when Richie McPhillips gained a council seat and the Lisnaskea businessman has now got his sights set on Stormont.

"[In] our council election results, we have six councillors, one in each of the [district electoral areas] in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency," he said.

Image caption Richie McPhillips says his party needs to re-engage with voters who have "strayed away"

"If we can replicate and do better than that I certainly think we're in with a very, very good chance of regaining the seat and that's our aim."

He said the SDLP had to re-engage with voters who had "stayed away or strayed away".

"The voice that we had for many years in Tommy Gallagher, the SDLP voice and the SDLP reason for being has been very much lost in the politics of Northern Ireland in this last five years."

He said he would make health a priority, along with job creation and attracting foreign direct investment, so that young people could find work at home and not be "educated for export".

Fresh

Now that Tom Elliott is an MP at Westminster the question for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) is who might replace him at Stormont?

The party has two candidates - Alastair Patterson was co-opted to the assembly in January and Rosemary Barton has been a councillor for six years.

Image caption Alastair Patterson and Rosemary Barton are looking to continue where Tom Elliott left off

"This time it doesn't have Tom Elliott on the ballot paper, who has been there since 2003," Mr Patterson said.

"So this time I'm one of the new kids on the block, I'm one of the fresh faces within the Ulster Unionist Party.

"The message that I'm getting on the door [is] people are actually delighted to see someone new coming on the scene and I'm hoping that we can gather up that support."

In the brief time he was at Stormont he found there was often more process rather than progress.

He said timeframes should be put in place in the new administration so that not everything is left to the last minute to tackle the big issues, such as frontline health services.

With a history of close results, the election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone is set to be another cliff-hanger.

Candidates for Fermanagh and South Tyrone

Rosemary Barton, UUP

Kerri Blyberg, Alliance Party

Donald Crawford, TUV

John Feely, Sinn Féin

Phil Flanagan, Sinn Féin

Arlene Foster, DUP

Michelle Gildernew, Sinn Féin

Damien Harris, NI Labour Representation Committee

Tanya Jones, Green Party

Sean Lynch, Sinn Féin

Richie McPhilips, SDLP

Maurice Morrow, DUP

Alastair Patterson, UUP

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