Constituency seen as a model of ‘political correctness’

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The Upper Bann constituency is a model of ‘political correctness’ as the May 7 General Election looms – one Asian-born man and three women are among the candidates, with the female percentages here at 37.5 per cent against the NI average of around 23 per cent.

The outsiders add an interesting dimension – Amandeep Singh Bhogal (Conservative); Damien Harte (Workers Party); Martin Kelly (CISTA, Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol) and Peter Lavery (Alliance).

The most interesting is perhaps Amandeep, the blue-turban-wearing Sikh who hails from the Punjab in India. He splits his life between his home area of Kent and the Punjab, where the 31-year-old shares business interests with his family – mainly engineering.

He claims Irish connections as the famed Connaught Rangers staged their ill-fated mutiny in 1920 in his home town, protesting against the British presence in Ireland. He added that, in more recent years, the Punjab was divided Sikh against Sikh, Hindu against Hindu and that countless tens of thousands died in the conflict.

“When the Conservatives decided to put up 16 candidates in Northern Ireland, I was keen to be involved and I chose Upper Bann,” he said. “My canvass has shown me that young voters want a change from sectarianism.”

Alliance usually poll between 1.000 and 1,500 votes in Upper Bann, although Mr Lavery thinks he will fare better. In his mid-20s, he is a former pupil of Lismore Comprehensive School, where his mother is vice-principal. He is a graduate from Queen’s University and works for a Belfast consultancy firm. He contested the ABC elections last May and attracted 589 first preferences in the Lurgan DEA against a 1,438 quota. But he failed to make the council.

Workers Party hopeful Damien Harte describes himself as “an active campaigner for increased local democracy and I oppose sectarianism and cuts to public sector.” He is an Executive Director of a Lurgan based community interest company, working with educationally disadvantaged young people.

Martin Kelly of CISTA is one of four candidates standing in Northern Ireland, the idea being to publicise a pro-cannabis ethos rather than collecting votes.