Following the death of Joe Dodds, a district councillor for Enniskillen DEA in Fermanagh (and father of Nigel Dodds, currently Finance Minister in the Executive), the District Council were last night unable to agree to a co-option, and must now proceed to a by-election.
A co-option is basically an agreement by all the other members of the Council that the party of the deceased member can pick his or her replacement, and nobody will stand in their way. Given the fraught state of Northern Irish politics such an agreement would always have been difficult to get. Some observers, however, believed that the circumstances of the vacancy (the death of Joe Dodds) should have allowed his party, the DUP, to co-opt a replacement. But it seems that the UUP disagreed, and so there will be an election.
The timetable for the by-election in Enniskillen is slightly flexible, within legal limits set out in the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962:
- Last night the council failed to choose a person to fill the "casual vacancy", and so the clerk of the council must, within 7 days of the meeting, notify the Chief Electoral Officer of this; i.e. by 14 July.
- Publication of the notice of election must take place within 21 days from the date on which the "casual vacancy" is deemed to have occurred; i.e. by 28 July at the latest.
- Delivery of nomination papers takes place "on two consecutive days, the second of which shall not be earlier than the 4th day, nor later than the 7th day after the day of publication of the notice of election"; i.e. by 4 August at the latest.
- And polling must take place on a day "which shall not be earlier than the 18th nor later than the 21st day after the last day for delivery of nomination papers", i.e. between 22 and 25 August, if all other steps occur at their latest date.
These are the maximum periods. The timetable can be shortened if the council notifies the Chief Electoral Officer immediately, or if the notice of election is published in less than 21 days from notification.
As this blog previously pointed out, although Enniskillen has slightly more unionists than nationalists (48.6% to 46.7%), the election will be extremely interesting, and may lead to surprises.
Issues that will play a part include:
- The opinion of local unionists to the DUP's agreement to share power with Sinn Féin.
- The vote that Traditional Unionist Voice will receive, if it stands.
- Who will stand for the various parties (the DUP's large share of the vote in 2005 was thanks largely to Arlene Foster, who cannot stand again)
- Whether there will be a split in the unionist vote sufficient to result in Sinn Féin winning the seat.
- Whether the changing demographics of Enniskillen will lead to a nationalist majority in the DEA (no guarantee of the seat, of course - that would depend upon the transfers).
- Whether Sinn Féin will suffer from the recent resignation of Bernice Swift.
- Whether the SDLP will recover from its recent decline to pose a credible threat to Sinn Féin for the nationalist vote.
This blog will follow this election with interest.