Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein's McCallion jubilant as SDLP loses Foyle seat it had held for 34 years

By Donna Deeney

One of the biggest shocks of election night saw Sinn Fein seize the Foyle seat from the SDLP, which had held it for the past 34 years.

An ecstatic and seemingly unstoppable Elisha McCallion usurped SDLP stalwart Mark Durkan from this once safest of seats for the party, dedicating her victory to the late Martin McGuinness.

Mrs McCallion said: "Republicans in this city have had a difficult start to the year. We lost our friend, our leader and our inspiration, but he guided us every step of the way. His memory lives on in every single one of us and Martin, we did this for you."

The writing was on the wall for the SDLP around two hours after counting began at the Foyle Arena and Sinn Fein was in jubilant form, joined by Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill.

However, it had to wait until after 3am for the official declaration, until a recount was completed.

Mrs McCallion thanked her predecessor, Mr Durkan, before adding: "I cannot express my extreme delight at being the first ever republican MP elected for Derry.

"I want to make it clear that I will represent every single person in this constituency in places where it will actually matter."

Mrs McCallion's victory comes weeks after she topped the poll in Foyle in the Assembly elections in March.

This leaves the party with the task of finding a replacement for her in Stormont, where the parties are due to gather again on Monday.

The final tally showed just 169 between Mrs McCallion, who secured 18,256 votes, and Mr Durkan, who polled 18,087, but a look back at the last Westminster election shows the real extent of the gain by Sinn Fein.

Then, Mr Durkan was elected with a comfortable majority of 6,046 votes ahead of the Sinn Fein candidate, so for Sinn Fein to have closed that gap is a colossal result.

The overall turnout in Foyle was up by around 10% from the 2015 election, from 37,528 to 46,136, of an eligible electorate of 70,324 (65.6%).

The use of proxy votes in this constituency became an issue in the days before voting, when the PSNI confirmed it was investigating alleged electoral fraud, and the possibility of a challenge was hinted at by Mr Durkan.

He said: "If there are any issues around procedures or practises around the election, those points will be there for another day and they are only mentioned now because they may well be raised and pursued by possibly other parties as well."

While the DUP's Gary Middleton was never going to win this seat, he left the Foyle Arena more than pleased with his result, which saw his vote increase from 4,573 in 2015 to 7,398.

He said: "Compared with our Assembly vote a few weeks ago when we polled around 6,000, this has been an increase in our vote.

"It is clear that unionism came out in Foyle and that seems to be the trend across the province, so it has been a good election for unionism."

The Alliance party has never been able to make inroads in this constituency and this time around its candidate, John Doherty, fared poorly, managing to secure just 847 votes.

The People Before Profit's Shaun Harkin also failed to ignite any enthusiasm among the electorate, tallying just 1,377 votes.

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