It will be an election with an extraordinary subplot, where one candidate has been publicly accused of killing the father of the other.
Nigel Lutton, a Northern Ireland unionist, is to fight a Westminster by-election against a republican once accused of involvement in the murder of his father in an IRA ambush.
He will stand for the Mid-Ulster seat next month against Sinn Fein’s Francie Molloy, who was once accused in the House of Commons of helping the IRA kill Mr Lutton’s father, Frederick. The ballot will generate much emotion in the constituency, where the IRA was highly active during the Troubles.
Mr Lutton, a 40-year-old former police reservist who worked as a caretaker, was shot dead by IRA gunmen in 1979 as he locked up a National Trust property in Moy, County Tyrone.
His son, who was eight at the time, said years later of his death: “They had assault rifles, really heavy-duty stuff – they just emptied high-velocity rounds into him.”
The contest is for the seat vacated by Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, who is stepping down from the Commons to concentrate on politics in Belfast. It will take place on 7 March. Mr Molloy, a veteran republican who is a deputy speaker in the Northern Ireland Assembly, has always strongly denied involvement in the Lutton attack. He said today that anyone wanting to make claims about him should not do so under the cloak of parliamentary privilege.
Asked if he condemned the killing he said: “All murder is wrong, and we want to move on.”
He added that he had known Mr Lutton’s father and would be prepared to shake his hand.
Mr Lutton said he had spent a large part of his life working with victims of terrorism, and in Parliament he would be a voice for victims.
In 2007, Mr Molloy was accused in Parliament by the Democratic Unionist MP David Simpson not only of involvement in murder but also of being a security force informer.
Mr Simpson, a cousin of Mr Lutton, told the Commons: “As well as being a suspect in the Lutton case and as well as being known to the police, Francie Molloy was also well known – and this information is from the police – for a series of sexual indiscretions.
“Francie Molloy was caught by the security forces in a compromising position. As a result of this he was recruited as an informer for the police. During the years that followed Molloy passed on information to the police. This helped them to break open the IRA’s notorious East Tyrone Brigade. Prior to Molloy’s recruitment, the East Tyrone Brigade had been virtually impregnable. After it they suffered setbacks, taking direct hits and losing personnel.”
The fact Mr Molloy has remained a prominent figure within Sinn Fein indicates that republicans reject the allegation that he was an informer.
Mr Lutton has been selected as an agreed candidate by the two major unionist parties who hope to maximise the Protestant vote in the constituency. Mr Molloy is, however, favourite to retain the seat that Mr McGuinness has held comfortably since 1997.