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SDLP unperturbed as Martin McGuinness sets sights on Foyle seat

By Donna Deeney

Published 23/01/2016

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness is one of three Sinn Fein candidates who will contest the Assembly election in the Foyle constituency, it has been confirmed.

The Deputy First Minister has represented Mid Ulster for the past 19 years, but his candidacy for Foyle has been officially endorsed at the Sinn Fein Cuige Uladh AGM in Derry.

While some think it is a bold move by Sinn Fein, others have pointed to the narrow margin of 1% that separated the party and the SDLP at the last vote.

Speaking at the conference, Mr McGuinness said it "hasn't been an easy decision".

"I have served as an MLA and MP in mid-Ulster for 19 years and it has been my great honour and privilege to do so.

"I have a very deep affection for the people of south Derry. I leave mid-Ulster with a heavy heart, but I do so safe in the knowledge that Sinn Fein has never been stronger there.

"I believe I can help to build on the fantastic work that Maeve McLaughlin and Raymond McCartney have already been doing.

"I want to see this city and region thriving and making the most of the massive potential that we have here."

There are six seats up for grabs in the constituency, where previously the SDLP won three, Sinn Fein two and the DUP one.

This is the first time that the SDLP in Foyle will go into an Assembly election without Pat Ramsey, who recently retired on health grounds.

SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan said his party was not in the least bit daunted at the idea of meeting Mr McGuinness on the campaign trail.

"It is up to parties and individuals themselves where they run," he said. "We in the SDLP are not in the least bit worried by this decision to run Martin McGuinness in Foyle.

"It will actually create a bit more interest. There will be a bit more focus on politics here and as a result I expect there to be more participation, which can only be a good thing.

"Martin is without a doubt a political heavyweight, and he is a Derry native. One would have to ask why he hasn't been running in Derry before now.

"We do have three seats in Derry, and the SDLP has a strong record of delivering for Derry.

"Elections are basically a referendum on delivery for an area, and if you look at the past nine years since Martin has been Deputy First Minister, delivery for Derry has been minimal."

Sinn Fein has a tradition of moving its big hitters around the region, and it is felt to be no coincidence that Mr McGuinness is moving back to Foyle for the election where the SDLP will be led by Colum Eastwood, another Derry native.

Mr McGuinness was originally moved from Foyle to Mid Ulster because he could not shift SDLP leader John Hume from his seat.

Neither Mr McGuinness nor anyone from Sinn Fein was available to comment ahead of the official announcement.

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