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Constituency Notebook 2017: Foyle

Brexit matters in the border Foyle constituency. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus McKinney

VETERAN political activist Eamonn McCann was one of the big success stories of last year’s assembly elections.

After years fighting the socialist cause, McCann won a seat to an elected chamber for the first time running under the People Before Profit (PBF) banner.

However on paper, and based on last year’s figures, he is likely to have a real fight on his hands to repeat that success.

With the reduction in each constituency from six to five seats, and based on last year’s turn-out, the Foyle quota is likely to be around 6,500. Given McCann won the final seat last time round the secret to success for him might be to remain in the race long enough to challenge.

If McCann takes the fifth seat, it is quite likely to be at the expense of the DUP’s Gary Middleton, given the way PR electoral politics work. If that’s the case, Foyle will become one of the headline stories in the March 2 poll as for the first time in history, there would be no unionist voice in Derry at Stormont.

That would be a major shock for unionism as the 'city of the siege', often looked on as the jewel in the unionist crown, would be surrendered completely to nationalism and republicanism.

However, the fact that DUP rebel, Maurice Devenney is not standing is likely to help Middleton which would leave McCann the loser. But that all depends on the big unknown, the impact of RHI on the DUP vote.

Most observers believe the SDLP – with party leader Colum Eastwood running – and Sinn Féin will take two seats each.

They may even have an easier ride than last year; the SDLP is running two candidates rather than three and Sinn Féin’s Elisha McCallion could be riding on the tide of a huge emotional vote from the electorate following the retirement of Martin McGuinness.

Foyle is one of those few constituencies that border the Republic and therefore is one where Brexit could have a much more visual appearance that other areas.

Canvassers across all parties are reporting the issue of a hard border with visible signs marking out both jurisdictions. The border – and people’s memory of it – has been a major talking point in the city with one retired customs expert claiming people walking their dogs to Bridgend after Brexit might even need a passport.

The Irish language and the DUP’s apparent intolerance of anything nationalist or republican is also a factor on the doorsteps. Among the more focussed local issues are the expansion of Ulster University’s Magee campus; the development of the A5 (to Dublin) and A6 (to Belfast) and Derry’s continued neglect by job creation agencies.

While the first four seats should be predictable enough it will be an interesting contest for the last. Other parties standing include the UUP, Alliance, Conservatives, the Greens and a candidate from Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol (CISTA).

CANDIDATES

Stuart Canning (NI Con)

Colm Cavanagh (All)

Shannon Downey (Green)

Mark H Durkan (SDLP)

Colum Eastwood (SDLP)

Julia Kee (UUP)

John Lindsay (CISTA)

Elisha McCallion (SF)

Eamonn McCann (PBP)

Raymond McCartney (SF)

Arthur McGuinness (Ind)

Gary Middleton (DUP)

2016 share of first preference vote

SDLP 30%

SF 28.5%

Independents 13.9%

DUP 11.9%

PBF 10.5%

UUP 3.6%

CISTA 0.7%

All 0.6%

Green 0.4%

NI Conservative 0.1%

Seats won in 2016

SDLP 2

SF 2

DUP1

PBP 1

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