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Prospect of West Tyrone victims candidate remote

The prospect of a candidate contesting the West Tyrone by-election to represent victims appears remote as the polling day draws closer.

The only person to express an interest in becoming a candidate, says he has received no backing from any party.

Kevin Skelton, who lost his wife Philomena in the Omagh bomb, said he would only stand against Sinn Féin if other parties stepped aside to leave him with a straight head-to-head race.

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Sinn Féin took the seat last June with more than 10,000 votes to spare over their nearest opponent.

But despite writing to party leaders last month, Mr Skelton, who now works as a victims campaigner, said the Alliance Party leader Naomi Long was the only one to respond. He suggested her response poured cold water on the prospect of Alliance stepping aside.

The Tyrone Herald has also learned that an unsuccessful approach was made by at least one political party to the same local person in recent weeks about becoming a candidate. However the man did not wish to put his name forward.

To date Sinn Féin’s Órfhlaith Begley is the only confirmed candidate for the by-election.

But it’s understood that both the SDLP and Alliance will contest the poll.

Cannabis campaigner Barry Brown has also stated his intention to stand in the by-election.

No date has yet been set for the election, but locally, parties are working on the basis that it will take place in just over six weeks time on May 3.

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SPECULATION

Speculation over the potential for other parties to step aside for a cross-community candidate began within minutes of Barry McElduff announcing his resignation on January 15.

The fact that the Sinn Féin MP’s departure was triggered by the hurt caused to families of the Kingsmills victims, prompted UUP leader Robin Swann to moot the possibility of a “non-partisan candidate who will be a voice for victims”.

The Ulster Unionists are understood to have made a quiet but unsuccessful approach to one person who would fit the description of a victims’ candidate.

However the party leadership appear to have shown no interest in taking up Kevin Skelton’s offer.

FRUSTRATION

Kevin Skelton.

Speaking last week, Mr Skelton expressed his frustration over the response he has received to date.

It would only be a bit of common courtesy if they would come along and talk with me. But they have completely ignored me, which is the frustrating part of it, it’s as if you didn’t exist,” he said.

I’m a victim of the Troubles and I’m not saying I’m smarter than anybody else, but I’m as smart as some of the people who are there.

I think I would be able to obtain considerable support from both sides of the community.”

The DUP has yet to state its intentions for the by-election.

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