Assembly Election

East Derry: Retirement of big-hitters could impact on contest

Mussenden Temple in East Derry. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus McKinney

THE absence of two of the biggest vote-catchers of northern politics is likely to be a key factor in the outcome of the assembly contest in East Derry.

Veteran SDLP member John Dallat opted not to run while the DUP’s Gregory Campbell gave up his seat to focus on his role as MP.

And following the untimely death of popular independent unionist MLA David McClarty, his seat was taken over by his constituency worker Claire Sugden.

Having been co-opted and not been a candidate in last year’s Westminster poll, she is a newcomer to electoral battle.

With 17 candidates standing, all of these factors make it difficult to predict the final outcome.

The constituency stretches from Ballykelly in Co Derry into Co Antrim, with Limavady, Coleraine and Dungiven the key towns.

While it is predominantly unionist, it has traditionally returned two nationalist members. In recent years this has broken down as one SDLP and one Sinn Féin.

Watch: East Derry

East Derry has suffered economically in recent years and journalist and author Eimear O’Callaghan believes the economy and employment are key election issues.

Ms O’Callaghan, who lives in the constituency, said the loss of jobs at Farm Fed Chickens and Coleraine’s DVLNI office has been particularly felt.

“The constituency has also suffered with the close of Shackleton Barracks (in Ballykelly) and there are concerns about the university (Ulster University) - the apparent running down of courses in Coleraine in favour of Belfast,” she said.

But Ms O’Callaghan - who wrote Belfast Days: A Teenage Diary about growing up through the Troubles - said despite the economic downturn, the constituency has enjoyed positive developments.

“Tourism appears to be doing well in the area with a lot of new restaurants and facilities in Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine. The relocation of Dard’s headquarters to the former army barracks at Ballykelly is also a positive move as well as Coleraine being designated the first enterprise zone in Northern Ireland.”

A veteran election observer, Ms O’Callaghan believes five of the six East Derry seats can be predicted, although with caution.

She believes the DUP will safely return two candidates, most likely outgoing assembly member George Robinson from Limavady and former Coleraine mayor Maurice Bradley.

That could leave another outgoing DUP MLA, Adrian McQuillan, scrapping for his seat.

“William McCandless is a Coleraine councillor and is a strong candidate for the Ulster Unionists. I would think he would be confident of winning a seat, whether that is the seat held by Adrian McQuillan (DUP) or Claire Sugden (Ind).”

Ms O’Callaghan believes Sinn Féin’s Cathal Ó hÓisín will retain his seat while his running partner, Caoimhe Archibald, will have eyes on the John Dallat's place at Stormont.

However, the Derry author believes that seat will remain with the party with Limavady councillor Gerry Mullan getting across the line.

That all leaves a real contest for the last seat.

East Derry is one of the constituencies earmarked by Jim Allister for a TUV gain from the DUP.

“They’ve gone for a younger candidate in Jordan Armstrong, a former soldier. I wouldn’t rule out Alliance either - their vote has been growing in East Derry and the party has always been able to get transfers here.

"It will be interesting to see if those who voted for David McClarty remain with Claire Sugden,” Ms O’Callaghan said.

From a nationalist point of view, it looks as if the status quo will be maintained in East Derry. However, on the unionist side, the constituency may give an indication of any change in voting patterns.

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2011 share of first preference vote:

DUP 36.9 per cent

SF 21.1 per cent

SDLP 14.9 per cent

Ind 8.6 per cent

UUP 8.4 per cent

All 5.5 per cent

TUV 4.5 per cent

Seats won by party in 2011:

DUP 3 seats

SF 1 seat

SDLP 1 seat

Ind 1 seat

List of 2016 candidates:

Caoimhe Archibald (SF)

Jordan Armstrong (TUV)

Yvonne Boyle (All)

Maurice Bradley (DUP)

Aaron Callan (UUP)

Stuart Canning (Conservative)

Tor Christie (Ind)

Amber Hammill (Green)

David Harding (Conservative)

William McCandless (UUP)

Adrian McQuillan (DUP)

Gerry Mullan (SDLP)

Cathal Ó hOisín (SF)

Steven Parkhill (Ukip)

George Robinson (DUP)

Claire Sugden (Ind)

Russell Watton (PUP)

Assembly Election

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