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Durkan still favourite to see off latest Sinn Fein opponent

In the latest of our series of constituency profiles, Donna Deeney looks at the race in Foyle

Published 15/04/2015

There may be seven candidates standing in the Westminster election for Foyle - but few would disagree it is a two-horse race between the SDLP and Sinn Fein.

The constituency consists mostly of Derry city and is overwhelmingly nationalist or republican, with more than 75% of the population coming from a Catholic background.

Formed in 1983, it has been an SDLP stronghold, represented by John Hume until he retired in 2005 and since then by Mark Durkan - who is once again hoping to be elected. Mr Durkan topped the poll in 2010 with 16,922 votes - 44.7% of the votes cast.

His vote actually fell by 1.7%, although Sinn Fein and DUP saw a drop in their vote as well. That's because turnout plummeted by more than 12% from 2005.

Overcoming apathy among the Foyle voters is likely to be the biggest challenge facing all seven candidates this time around. The turnout was only 57% five years ago.

Foyle has the highest unemployment record, not just in Northern Ireland but right across the UK. And with little sign of progress on the horizon, many voters in this constituency feel even more disconnected from Westminster than they do from Stormont.

The main challenger to Mr Durkan this time is Sinn Fein's Gearoid O hEara.

A high-profile figure within the Irish culture scene in Derry, he is current chief executive of Culturlann Ui Chanain and played a pivitol role in bringing the hugely successful All-Ireland Fleadh to the city in 2013.

He has made no bones about the fact that he will directly canvass votes from the unionist community.

Mr O hEara is already well known for his work with the Londonderry Bands Forum which took part in a number of events during the Fleadh.

More recently, the group addressed a fringe meeting of the Sinn Fein ard fheis at Mr O hEara's invite.

If he succeeds where his predecessors - Martina Anderson MEP and Assembly Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin - failed and takes the seat from Mr Durkan, it would be a devastating blow for the SDLP.

Ms Anderson secured 12,098 votes (31.9%) in 2010, and while Sinn Fein's support has been creeping up, Mr Durkan will be difficult to shift from his seat in the SDLP heartland.

The 25% of voters expected not to place their 'X' against either of these candidates' names have a choice of five other options: Hamish Badenoch for the NI Conservatives, Maurice Devenney for the DUP, David Hawthorne representing the Alliance Party, the UUP's Julia Kee and Kyle Thompson of Ukip.

Missing from the ballot paper this time is People Before Profit candidate Eamonn McCann, who polled a respectable 2,936 votes, but neither Alliance, which has never polled well in Foyle, nor Ukip are expected to benefit.

The DUP's Maurice Devenney will be hoping to improve on the 4,489 votes he secured in 2010 as will the new face for the UUP, Julia Kee.

Belfast Telegraph

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