Belfast Telegraph

Constituency profile: A two-horse race in Foyle set to deliver drama

  • Outgoing MP: Elisha McCallion
  • 2017 result: Sinn Fein gain
  • Majority: 169
  • Candidates: Elisha McCallion (Sinn Fein), Colum Eastwood (SDLP), Gary Middleton (DUP), Darren Guy (UUP), Rachael Ferguson (Alliance), Anne McCloskey (Aontu), Shaun Harkin (PBP)
  • Electorate: 73,549
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

In one of the most eagerly-anticipated elections in recent times, the battle for Foyle is set to deliver a contest high on drama and intrigue.

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This is Northern Ireland's most marginal seat, once solid SDLP ground, wrestled away by Sinn Fein in 2017 by just 169 votes.

The focus this time will be on whether SDLP leader Colum Eastwood can defeat Elisha McCallion and reclaim the seat his party had held since the formation of the constituency.

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Colum Eastwood

While there are seven candidates in the running, in reality this is a two-horse race within nationalism.

And with just 0.4% of the total vote separating Sinn Fein and the SDLP last time, it could be a photo finish this time too.

Geographically, Foyle stretches from Eglinton village to Newbuildings, sweeps along both sides of the river from which the constituency takes its name and reaches into Creggan, Galliagh, Shantallow and out to Culmore.

This expanse covers some of the most impoverished areas in the UK, such as the Brandywell, Creggan and Bogside, where families exist on the breadline and for whom each day brings a new struggle to put food on the table and coal on the fire.

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It also encompasses some very affluent areas like Eglinton, Culmore and Drumahoe, where most people have well paid jobs, more than one car and can afford to jet off to the sun at least once or twice a year.

The burning issues for voters will be relative to the particular area being canvassed, but candidates will find voters who are politically aware and engaged.

In the 2017 election the turnout was 65.4%, reflective of the overall turnout for Northern Ireland (65.6%).

Tommy Court, manager of Rosemount Resource Centre, where an increasing number of people arrive seeking welfare advice, said the main issue for his clients is making ends meet.

He said: "Derry has one of the highest levels of social deprivation, so for many people the big issue for them is how they can make ends meet and basically survive.

"Because of their living conditions, health is another big issue and they see how broken the system is right now, how long the waits are at A&E and even to get an appointment to see a GP.

"Like everyone else, they see the importance of good infrastructure and the completion of the dual carriageway between Derry and Belfast and of how detrimental to Derry the failure to open a medical school will be, but are these issues top of their agenda: the answer is 'no'."

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Elisha McCallion

Foyle's proximity to the border with the Republic means the impact of Brexit will be felt deeply and is bound to be high on the agenda of every doorstep.

Hundreds of people have family on both sides of the border, people cross on a daily basis to work and shop, and concerns about a return to lengthy delays at the frontier were demonstrated in 2016 when the constituency had one of the highest turnouts in support of remaining in the EU at 78.3%.

Brian McGrath, president of Londonderry Chamber, said alongside Brexit, the business community in Foyle will want an MP who is committed to driving investment.

He said: "This election is hugely significant for the business community in the north west and further afield.

"While Brexit is obviously a key driver for many going into next month's poll, our members have wider concerns about a range of issues.

"It is imperative that our MP for Foyle is committed to attracting further investment and high-quality jobs into the north west region.

"Given our unique location, it is absolutely vital that our members can continue to operate and trade across the border in the same way they do today."

The constituency was created in 1983 and had been a SDLP stronghold from that time, firstly with John Hume and latterly Mark Durkan, who lost to Ms McCallion last time by a mere 169 votes.

While it is nigh impossible for any of the five other candidates to take this seat, the presence of Dr Anne McCloskey, for pro-life republican party Aontu, on the ballot paper could be critical, if she takes votes from Sinn Fein or the SDLP.

There are two unionist candidates - Gary Middleton (DUP) and Darren Guy (UUP).

Rachael Ferguson is the Alliance candidate and People Before Profit is fielding Shaun Harkin.

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