Sinn Fein defeat SDLP for first time in party heartland of Foyle
SINN Fein delivered a huge bloody nose to the SDLP when they outpolled the party in its Foyle heartland for the first time in almost 35 years.
Sinn Fein enjoyed double success as their new assembly candidate, Elisha McCallion topped the poll and was elected on the first count with a huge 1,768 over the quota. The result was the first time Sinn Fein outscored the SDLP in Derry since 1973.
The result was a devastating blow for the SDLP and for the party leader, Colum Eastwood in particular. Derry has long been looked on as an SDLP citadel as the home of current leader and as the home of its founder and best known leader, John Hume.
Following the second count there was further good news for Sinn Fein as veteran assembly member, Raymond McCartney passed the quota by virtue of Mrs McCallion’s transfers.
With the Derry turn-out reflecting increases from across the north, the SDLP actually increased its vote in Foyle as well as its share of the vote. However, Sinn Fein saw its share of the Derry vote increase from 28.5% last year to a hugely impressive 36.6%.
Election workers put much of the turn-around down to the performance of former Derry assembly member and former deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness who retired from electoral politics on health grounds. His replacement, Mrs McCallion also brought a large personal vote, built on her time as first mayor of Derry city and Strabane district council.
The new MLA last night dedicated her victory to Mr McGuinness and pledged to work towards the political targets he had set.
Mrs McCallion said: “We had a sense over the last six weeks from the doorsteps that the turnout would be up and that our vote would increase. I am delighted with the result.”
In the SDLP camp, party workers were decidedly downbeat despite increasing the party’s share of the vote on last year by almost two percentage points.
SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood acknowledged that Sinn Fein was the big winner although he was pleased that the SDLP vote had increased in Foyle by more than 2,000.
“We have had a good performance here but it is clear that Sinn Fein has had a very good day across the north.”
By late afternoon, the SDLP leader was reluctant to give any overview of the party’s performance across Northern Ireland.
“We are in battles all over the place, many with Sinn Fein but we are still very much in the race,” he said.
SDLP election workers expected both Derry candidates, leader, Mr Eastwood and former minister, Mark H Durkan to be returned, leaving the fight for the final seat in Foyle between People Before Profit’s Eamon McCann and outgoing DUP MLA, Gary Middleton.
Foyle party share of the vote: