Assembly Election

Constituency Notebook: Nationalist leaders go head to head in Foyle

Derry's Foyle is the battleground for nationalist leaders. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Seamus McKinney

THE Foyle constituency has taken on an added significance in this assembly poll as the two leaders of nationalist politics go head to head.

Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness’s move from Mid Ulster to his native city and the SDLP electing Derry man Colum Eastwood as leader will put the two high profile names in the frame to do battle.

However, the reason for McGuinness’s move is unlikely to be purely an effort to give the new SDLP chief a bloody nose. With the election coming within months of Eastwood’s appointment as leader, he will still be in a honeymoon period should things not go well; he can still say “it’s the last crowd’s fault.”

While outside the constituency, the contest between McGuinness and Eastwood will headline, within Foyle, it’s the battle for the sixth seat that has sparked the most interest.

Few things are certain in elections. However, in Foyle, it’s likely that McGuinness, Eastwood, outgoing Environment Minister Mark H Durkan and the DUP’s Gary Middleton will come home. That leaves two seats, one of which will almost certainly go to Sinn Féin, either Raymond McCartney or Maeve McLaughlin. And that leaves a huge dogfight for sixth place.

The candidates chasing that include: Sinn Féin’s McCartney or McLaughlin; sitting SDLP member, Gerard Diver; People before Profit’s Eamon McCann; GP, Dr Anne McCloskey standing as an independent; Ulster Unionist, Julia McKee among other independents and smaller parties.

Watch: Foyle

Veteran commentator and journalist, Paul McFadden believes this election is about the economy infrastructure and delivery in Derry.

“I think what appears to be at stake here is jobs and the fact that they aren’t being created fast enough. Derry believes it’s not getting its fair share,” Mr McFadden said.

February employment figures showed that out of the 650 UK parliamentary constituencies, Derry had the highest percentage of claimants. It had the highest number of long term unemployed and the highest number of unemployed people in the 18 to 24 age range.

With 16 candidates, Foyle is a crowded field. Mr McFadden believes the inclusion of a large number of independents shows a discontent on the ground with the bigger parties.

“If you try to choose one thing that would speed up economic change in the west, it is a big expansion in student numbers and the type of courses at Magee (Ulster University),” he said.

The Derry journalist believes the fact that both Mr Eastwood and Mr McGuinness are contesting Foyle makes the fight for that sixth seat the most exciting in the whole election.

“There is no doubt that for Sinn Féin Foyle is the most coveted constituency as it has been seen as an SDLP citadel.”

While Sinn Féin’s decision to stand Mr McGuinness in Foyle is expected to draw a huge vote, Mr McFadden believes it could also prove a “lightning rod” for Sinn Féin’s opposition.

“It may encourage the less committed SDLP voters to come out and vote,” he said.

He believes the SDLP’s decision to run just three candidates this time out instead of four is an indication that they are particularly heedful of Sinn Féin’s steady voting growth in Derry in recent elections. So vote management will be key for the major parties.

  • List of 2016 candidates:

Kathleen Bradley (Ind)

Maurice Devenney (Ind)

Gerard Diver (SDLP)

Alan Dunlop (Conservatives)

Mark Durkan (SDLP)

Colum Eastwood (SDLP)

Mary Hassan (Greens)

Julia Kee (UUP)

John Lindsay (Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol Party)

Eamonn McCann (People before Profit)

Raymond McCartney (SF)

Chris McCaw (All)

Anne McCloskey (Ind)

Martin McGuinness (SF)

Maeve McLaughlin (SF)

Gary Middleton (SF)

  • 2011 share of first preference vote:

SDLP 35.3 per cent

SF 34 per cent

DUP 18.4 per cent

PBPA 8 per cent

Ind 3.5 per cent

Alliance 0.9 per cent

  • Seats won by party in 2011:

SDLP: 3 seats

SF: 2 seats

DUP : 1 seat

Assembly Election

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