Sinn Féin are showing they are serious about ending double jobbing with the announcement today that the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is to resign his Westminster seat for Mid Ulster and concentrate on his Assembly duties. There will be a by election in the Autumn.
However, four of his Stormont colleagues including the former Ministers for Agriculture and Rural Development Michelle Gildernew and for Regional Development Conor Murphy along with former Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty and recently elected MP Paul Maskey will all step down from their Assembly seats, in order for them to concentrate on spending more time avoiding the House of Commons chamber.
As the Assembly allows party’s to co-opt members to replace retiring or dying members there will not therefore be five by elections just the one in Mid Ulster. New MLAs will be appointed from within the party for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Newry and Armagh, West Tyrone and Belfast West.
Sinn Féin have held the Mid Ulster seat since 1997 when McGuinness defeated the DUP’s William McCrea by 1883 votes. McCrea tried to win it back in 1992 only to lose by almost 10,000 votes. Since then his son Ian, who is an MLA for the area, has been the DUP candidate but by 2010 was 15,363 votes behind McGuinness but only 50 votes ahead of the SDLP’s Tony Quinn. The UUP’s Women’s Development Officer and now MLA Sandra Overend came in fourth place.
It will be interesting to see if the other parties run MLA’s in this by election which is seen by one party as a way to end double jobbing. Especially as both the main Unionist parties candidates last time either were or now are MLAs.