It is hard to see the Sinn Féin Convention in Fermanagh-South Tyrone as anything other than a disaster. I dont envy the SF Press Officer who has to spin this one.
To recap, last May, SF were confident that Michelle Gildernew would retain the seat at Westminster. Their trolls embarked on a particuarly nasty “social media” campaign against John Coyle, the SDLP candidate. And…Karma being Karma, Ms Gildernew lost the seat to Tom Elliott of UUP.
It was always likely that Ms Gildernew would seek election to the Assembly in May and as Bronwyn McGahon MLA announced she was standing down, the scene was set for Michelle Gildernews return.
But the scene was complicated by sitting MLA Phil Flanagan having an expensive little Twitter-related problem of his own.
So at a recent selection convention, Gildernew was duly selected along with Sean Lynch MLA and John Feeley,a local councillor. Flanagan lost out.
There was however a discrepancy in the figures and a second convention was called. This time Lynch, Feeley and Flanagan were selected and Gildernew and McGahon who changed her mind, lost out.
So this leaves Fermanagh-South Tyrone without a Sinn Féin female candidate. And more seriously for vote management it means all three candidates are based in County Fermanagh and the South Tyrone part of the constituency will be allocated to one of the Fermanagh men.
Does it matter? Yes. To maintain three seats, vote management is vital and committed Sinn Féin voters in Dungannon and along the Clogher Valley will feel aggrieved.
The position of SDLP looks the same…the sole candidate is Fermanagh man, Richie McPhillips but it is actually a very different situation. Committed SDLP voters thru the constituency will know that the best way SDLP can regain the seat lost to SF in 2011 is a single candidate.
SDLP will also feel that they lost the seat by around seventy votes in 2011 and will be confident at having a solid vote (2014) in all six DEAs in the constituency, Sinn Féin lost their aura of invincibiliity in 2015 and now in 2016, their reputation for good organisation is in tatters.
What happened? Well Michelle Gildernew may be at the Sinn Féin top table but she committed the cardinal sin of losing the totemic seat won by Bobby Sands in 1981. And Phil Flanagan may have tweeted an expensive libel about Tom Elliott of UUP but seemingly the Party at national level is more forgiving of Michelle Gildernew than the rank and file in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. And seemingly the rank and file is more forgiving of Phil Flanagan than Party HQ.
But it aint over yet. It might well be the story of another selection convention (a third one) and membership instructed by HQ to vote again until they get it right. Or more likely, one of the three selected men will be persuaded to stand down in the interests of sInn Féin and they can even claim a high moral ground that it is all about gender balance.
Last week, I was telling anyone who would listen that Michelle Gildernew would move to Mid Ulster but overnight she has made it clear that she is not so doing….and her “heart is in Fermanagh-South Tyrone”. I think Michelle Gildernew will be on the ticket. But the damage is done and the bad blood in the constituency and between national and local Sinn Féin is too obvious to ignore.
Of course….she could always take a seat in the “House of Lords”