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Mid Ulster preview: Sinn Féin under pressure

Mid Ulster has been a Sinn Féin stronghold for 20 years, but the party is under pressure in the constituency this week.

With the Assembly seats available in the constituency down from six to five, it looks like Sinn Féin could lose out come Friday, when the votes are being totted up in Ballymena.

The party has had a strong grasp of Mid Ulster since Martin McGuinness’ triumph in the 1997 Westminster election, winning and holding three seats in all five Assembly polls since 1998.

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The quota needed to secure a seat this week is likely to be at least 7,000 votes. A turnout similar to 2011 (65 per-cent), would leave a quota of just over 7,400.

Based on last year’s performance, that should put the DUP’s Keith Buchanan top of the poll this week,

However Sinn Féin’s Ian Milne topped the poll last May with 7,035 votes and he could well repeat the task this time around.

The party’s new Northern leader Michelle O’Neill is also likely to see a bounce in her vote, taking her close to the 7,000 mark.

The SDLP’s Patsy McGlone should also hold onto his vote, which was 6,209 last year.

That leaves Sinn Féin’s Linda Dillon and the UUP’s Sandra Overend pitched against each other for seat five.

Linda Dillon took 5,833 first preference votes last May, sneaking over the quota at the first count by just 11 votes.

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That performance would leave her in dire need of transfers to get close to 7,000-7,500.

Sinn Féin’s vote management will be much better this time and Ms Dillon’s profile continues to grow.

But unless the party sees a significant surge in its vote, Sandra Overend is far better placed to mop up the considerable transfers of the TUV.

Although she took just 4,862 first preference votes last May, TUV candidate Hannah Loughrin took 1,877 and it will be her transfers which could settle the fate of the fifth seat in Mid Ulster.

The TUV will hope to improve on its vote, effectively taking on the role of kingmaker, or in this case queenmaker in Mid Ulster.

FULL LIST OF MID ULSTER CANDIDATES

Keith Buchanan (DUP)
Linda Dillon (Sinn Féin)
Hannah Loughrin (TUV)
Hugh McCloy (Indp)
Patsy Mc Glone (SDLP)
Ian Milne (Sinn Féin)
Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Féin)
Sandra Overend (UUP)
Hugh Scullion (WP)
Stefan Taylor (Green Party)
Fay Watson (APNI)

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