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West Tyrone By-Election 2018

Kingsmill row will not hit SF vote in West Tyrone: O'Neill

Barry McElduff and Michelle O'Neill when he was elected West Tyrone MP in 2017
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The furore over Barry McElduff's Kingsmill loaf tweet will not affect Sinn Fein's vote in the West Tyrone by-election, the party's vice president has predicted.

Michelle O'Neill said she expected a strong showing, portraying the poll as the first chance for voters to cast judgment on the breakdown of the Stormont talks process.

Former MP Mr McElduff quit in January, 10 days after he posted a video of himself with a Kingsmill-branded loaf on his head on the anniversary of the 1976 Kingsmill massacre.

He insisted it was not an intentional reference to the murders of 10 Protestant workmen by republican paramilitaries, but he acknowledged he had caused hurt and offence to victims' families.

Mrs O'Neill accompanied Sinn Fein's candidate, Carrickmore solicitor Orfhlaith Begley, as she lodged her nomination papers in Omagh yesterday.

Sinn Fein is defending a 10,000-plus majority in a seat where it took over 50% of votes cast in last year's general election.

Mrs O'Neill rejected any suggestion that the party's vote would be eroded by the tweet controversy.

"I don't believe so," she said.

"Barry did the right thing when he realised there was an error of judgment.

"He did the wrong thing, it wasn't intentional, but he himself recognised that hurt was caused, he took action, he stood out of political office, which is a big decision for anybody to take.

"We wish Barry well in the future but this is now an election in West Tyrone about Orfhlaith Begley, this is about getting Orfhlaith Begley elected."

Power-sharing at Stormont imploded in January 2017 amid the RHI scandal. The rift subsequently widened to take in disputes over issues such as the Irish language, same-sex marriage and how to handle the legacy of the Troubles.

Sinn Fein claimed DUP leader Arlene Foster agreed a draft deal to resurrect power-sharing in February before pulling the plug in the face of an internal revolt among party members angry at the prospect of concessions on an Irish Language Act.

Mrs Foster has denied that there was a draft deal.

Yesterday Mrs O'Neill said: "This is the first chance that people will have since the DUP collapsed the talks and denied people their rights."

Ms Begley said she had already received a warm reception on the campaign trail. "People are positive," she said.

Belfast Telegraph

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Barry McElduff and Michelle O'Neill when he was elected West Tyrone MP in 2017

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A still from the video posted by Barry McElduff