Assembly Election

Eamonn McCann: Election is a move away from tribal politics

Eamonn McCann celebrates his election at Foyle Arena in Derry as counting of votes continues in the the Foyle and East Derry constituencies in the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association 
Seamus McKinney

STORMONT new boy, Eamonn McCann believes his historic election will prove significant as it marks a move away from tribal politics.

The People Before Profit candidate won the sixth and final seat in Foyle in the early hours of Saturday morning.

A well known journalist, writer and campaigner, Mr McCann's victory marked the culmination of a long personal political journey for McCann (73) who first contested an election in the north in 1969.

A native of Derry's Bogside, Mr McCann was one of young political leaders to emerge in the late 1960s.

He first came to prominence as a member of the Derry Housing Action Committee campaigning for better housing against unionist leaders who held power through a gerrymander in Derry.

In all most 50 years, Mr McCann has contested many elections on left wing tickets, including as a member of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and as a candidate for the Socialist Workers' Party.

However, he was never successful until Thursday's election.

Following the declaration shortly after 1am on Saturday, Mr McCann invited his followers to mark the occasion by singing the workers’ anthem The Internationale. The Derry man told the Irish News: "It is significant that a seat will have been won by somebody in this constituency who is saying we're not orange, we're not green; we are other."

Mr McCann said the breakdown of seats in Foyle was a better reflection of the way people thought.

"There's an enormous number of people in Northern Ireland and including the Foyle constituency who don't regard themselves as imprisoned within communal identity and who haven't had an oulet. These people are frustrated," he said.

There was a hunger for "non-sectarian and anti-sectarian" politics in the north. He said opposition to sectarian politics was held back by a belief that such a view could not work in Northern Ireland.

"We've shown if we've shown nothing else that people are not predestined to vote in the same way every time," he said.

Mr McCann said he hoped to use the position of MLA to encourage grass-roots organisation and opposition to austerity as well as the development of a left wing political force in Northern Ireland based on class rather than on community.

"If we can do that, by amplifying our ideas within the assembly then I think we will have achieved something," he said.

Mr McCann’s victory also marked a tough day at the office for the mainstream parties. Not only did he take a seat from the SDLP but he helped deny Sinn Fèin’s efforts to take a third seat in Foyle.

Sinn Féin had targeted Foyle as a key constituency and moved the deputy first minister from Mid Ulster in an effort to grow the party vote.

For new SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, the Derry result will have been a disappointment also as he failed to hold three seats in his own backyard.

The result marked the end of a difficult campaign for the DUP. The election of the party’s Gary Middleton followed an acrimonious contest after former DUP assembly member, Maurice Devenney stood as an independent.

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Assembly Election