Northern Ireland

Constituency Profile: Foyle

Eastwood expected to hold seat with reduced majority

The Peace Bridge in Derry
University expansion and infrastructure development are among the key election issues in Foyle.

General Election 2024 in Foyle is beyond anything else a state of the parties assessment for the SDLP and Sinn Féin.

With his 17,000 majority, most commentators believe it is unlikely that SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood will be unseated by former Sinn Féin mayor, Sandra Duffy.

However, it is expected to be close with Eastwood emerging with a smaller majority.

While eight candidates are contesting Foyle, it is really a two-horse race between SF and the SDLP.

For Eastwood, it is the first-time voters will have chance to feedback on his performance as MP. For Sinn Féin, it is an opportunity to review the party’s overhaul of the constituency following disastrous results in 2019.

With an electorate of approximately 68,500 voters, Foyle covers Derry city and its immediate surroundings.

Fresh boundary changes have moved the villages of Ardmore, Claudy and Eglinton from Foyle to East Derry.

As the home of party founder, John Hume it is the ultimate SDLP heartland. For all but two of its 41 years, Foyle has been held by the party. Key issues include the campaign for a university for the city or for student expansion at Ulster University’s Magee campus; the upgrading of the A5 road and public transport along with bread-and-butter politics and the constitutional question.

In 2017, a political shockwave was sent through the north west when former Sinn Féin mayor, Elisha McCallion wrestled the seat from sitting SDLP MP, Mark Durkan with a small 169 majority.

Two years later, SDLP leader, Eastwood regained the seat back with a huge 17,000 majority, a swing of 18%.

Following the 2019 election losses, Sinn Féin ruthlessly overhauled the party in Derry, replacing sitting assembly members and backroom teams.

The changes had an immediate impact as the party emerged as the largest on Derry and Strabane council in last year’s local government contest.

While a repeat of last year’s vote would spell trouble for Eastwood, there is a huge difference between the PR vote-spreading and ‘first past the post’ elections, according to veteran commentator and number-cruncher, Gerry Murray.

A former SDLP chairman in Derry, Murray believes Eastwood will hold the seat but with a reduced majority.

“In the past, tactical voting among soft unionists helped the SDLP but Eastwood has less appeal to unionists; he’s been greener,” he said.

For other candidates, the election will be a platform to raise profiles and consolidate for the next assembly contest. The DUP’s Gary Middleton is likely to win the unionist vote over Ulster Unionist councillor, Janice Montgomery. Alliance candidate, Rachael Ferguson, who lost her council seat last year, and PbP’s Shaun Harkin are likely to be looking to the future.

It is unlikely Aontú's John Boyle or independent, Dr Anne McCloskey will threaten the status quo.