Election 2022: West Tyrone is a key hope for Jim Allister’s party

As one of the smaller political parties, Traditional Unionist Voice has struggled to get a second Stormont seat.

By Ben Lowry
Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 2:15 am
Updated Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 5:29 am

The TUV leader Jim Allister is popular in both his North Antrim constituency and when he has stood in European elections, but has not before come close to getting an MLA elected alongside him.

The hurdles are considerable. If his party gets at the lowest end of the poll estimates, 5.4%, it is more than double the TUV tally in 2017. Thus constituencies in which TUV candidates got 1,500 votes will, if they double that, still be on 3,000, which is typically far short of a quota.

But the party is confident of a vote far higher than 5% and of winning several seats and says it considers West Tyrone one of its best prospects.

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The former DUP man Trevor Clarke, now a TUV candidate, originally comes from Castlederg, above. He founded a group for IRA victims from the area

If this is so, then it turns conventional wisdom on its head: that the TUV is most likely to gain in constituencies in the east of Northern Ireland that are likely to return three unionist MLA.

West Tyrone is expected to return only one such unionist, although it might scrape two.

The TUV is confident that its candidate Trevor Clarke is resonating on the doorsteps.

Mr Clarke, 48, (not to be confused with Trevor Clarke MLA) was a DUP councillor in Coleraine who quit the party because it “wasn’t listening to its grassroots”.

He says: “The stance on the protocol was a flipflop, Arlene saying it offered the best of both worlds, and Poots allowing the posts to be built, and others saying it had to go. There was a failure to realise that the protocol was putting the Union in grave jeopardy.”

Mr Clarke, who is from Castlederg originally (he is now back living in the constituency), founded Derg Valley Victims Voice, a group for IRA victims in the area. Legacy is an area in which he says the DUP has been weak, the Irish language too, and its support for Alex Maskey as speaker. “It became a litany of failures to represent the unionist community.”

He says: “I really believe I can win. From Magheramason in the north of the constituency to Kilskerry in the south, from Killeter in the west to Omagh in the east, I have received endorsement and commitment to support from former DUP voters and former Ulster Unionists.”

However, Mr Clarke would have to pull off a major upset to unseat Tom Buchanan, 58, who has been an MLA for almost 20 years. Last time he easily topped the poll in this mostly nationalist constituency.

Mr Buchancan steers clear of criticism of other unionists, and says: “I hope the other unionist candidates are encouraging people to vote right down the line for unionism to increase the unionist vote.”

He insists that “things are going well for us in West Tyrone. We have been round most of the area and are getting a excellent reception on the doors”.

He says that “people realise they have to come out and vote for a party that is going to deliver rather than a party that is going to call for a divisive border poll after the election”.

When TUV hopes are put to him, he deflects: “I don’t know how confident they are but from what I am getting on the doors I have nothing to worry about.”

The other unionist contender, the UUP’s Ian Marshall, 53, also plays down the idea of a TUV surge.

The past president of the Ulster Farmer’s Union and member of the Irish senate says: “We are going the round doors, and feedback is really encouraging. Some people have said I am a breath of fresh air.”

Asked about his comment that the protocol is here to stay, and has advantages, he replies: “In five weeks only a couple of people have mentioned the protocol. My line is that if we collapse the executive we will give power to Boris and Micheal Martin to make decisions on our behalf and that is a frightening prospect.”

Mr Marshall says he has canvassed in republican and nationalist areas and has “not had a bad response”.

He will not be surprised if he and Stephen Donnelly of Alliance slug it out for a later seat. Mr Donnelly got 1,252 votes last time, a respectable total in a constituency where Alliance votes were once measured in the hundreds.

The sole SDLP candidate Daniel McCrossan is seen as a near cert for re-election.

Among the Sinn Fein trio in this contest, their third placed candidate in 2017 Declan McAleer is now perhaps their favourite to top the SF vote. The lower profile nature of the SF candidates this time might harm them, as might the presence of an anti-abortion republican, James Hope of Aontú.

Thus retaining three MLAs is very possible but by no means guaranteed for Sinn Fein.

• See below candidates and past results

• Outgoing MLAs in West Tyrone:

Brogan, Nicola (SF)

Buchanan, Tom (DUP)

McAleer, Declan (SF)

McCrossan, Daniel (SDLP)

McHugh, Maolíosa (SF)

• Candidates

Brogan, Nicola (SF)

Brown, Barry (Ind)

Buchanan, Tom (DUP)

Clarke, Trevor (TUV)

Donnelly, Stephen (All)

Ferguson, Amy (Soc)

Gallagher, Carol (PBP)

Gallagher, Paul (Ind)

Glass, Susan (Green)

Hope, James (Aontú)

Marshall, Ian (UUP)

McAleer, Declan (SF)

McCrossan, Daniel (SDLP)

McHugh, Maolíosa (SF)

• March 2017 Stormont election result

Thomas Buchanan DUP 9,064 20.4% ELECTED

Michaela Boyle Sinn Féin 7,714 17.4% ELECTED

Barry McElduff SF 7,573 17.1% ELECTED

Daniel McCrossan SDLP 6,283 14.2% ELECTED

Declan McAleer SF 6,034 13.6% ELECTED

Alicia Clarke UUP 3,654 8.2%

Charlie Chittick TUV 851 1.9%

Stephen Donnelly Alliance 1,252 2.8%

Sorcha McAnespy Independent 864 1.9%

Ciaran McClean Green (NI) 412 0.9%

Barry Brown CISTA 373 0.8%

Corey French Independent 98 0.2%

Roisin McMackin Independent 85 0.2%

Susan-Anne White Independent 41 0.1%

Roger Lomas NI Conservatives 27 0.1%

• December 2019 general election result

Órfhlaith Begley Sinn Féin 16,544 40.2 ELECTED MP

Thomas Buchanan DUP 9,066 22.0

Daniel McCrossan SDLP 7,330 17.8

Stephen Donnelly Alliance 3,979 9.7

Andy McKane UUP 2,774 6.7

James Hope Aontú 972 2.4

Susan Glass Green (NI) 521 1.3