By-election is a glimpse at the big picture

IT may just be another council by-election, but the Enniskillen poll on Wednesday is attracting wider attention for several reasons.

- It may offer an insight into public thinking and the current standing of the main parties.

- The circumstances of the Ulster Unionists forcing the poll after the death of DUP councillor Joe Dodds, rather than agreeing to co-option, adds bite to already bitter unionist divisions in Fermanagh.

- The candidacy of a big political name in Arlene Foster.

- The first chance for Sinn Fein's popularity to be tested since the return of devolution.

- And the evenly split nature of the constituency between unionists and nationalists, which makes the final result difficult to predict.

The main focus, to date, has been on unionist in-fighting – the UUP's decision to force the by-election and the DUP nomination of a candidate who is already an MLA and Economy Minister.

Mrs Foster said: "When the Ulster Unionist Party decided to put the seat up for an election what they were doing, as you can see from the (previous election) figures, was being quite reckless because at the minute we have four nationalist (councillors) and three unionist in that area.

"The party (DUP) collectively and at leadership level – and here in Fermanagh – felt we needed to take it very seriously to retain the seat and that is why I was asked to run."

But if there is pressure on Mrs Foster she is not showing it. Possibly because she is consumed more by the concerns on the doorsteps.

The electorate has been raising worries over traffic congestion in the town; parking; farms flooding; poor access to NHS dentistry; the southern by-pass; maintenance of roads; housing in areas such as Coleshill and Killyvilly; the future of Devenish College and academic selection.

Mrs Foster said many people had also talked about Cross cemetery following the council's plans to restrict surrounds and memorabilia.

She added: "Policing obviously, with the dissident threat in this area, is a huge issue. There again is a perfect example of being able to punch above your weight, because of the position I am in, when I am on delegations that go to meet the Chief Constable to ask about police stations and resources in Fermanagh."

As a local organic farmer, Ulster Unionist candidate Basil Johnston also knows well the lie of the land in Fermanagh.

He will know he faces a tough battle, on the unionist side, to beat Mrs Foster but he also knows from the last election that the UUP took 20.5 per cent of the vote to the DUP's 28.2 per cent and the UUP does seem to have turned a corner nationally, with improving fortunes.

So with a base from which to work and a previous stint on council behind him between 1997-2001, he said: "I am the candidate on the unionist side that can stop Sinn Fein.