Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

Constituency profile: DUP's Campbell to romp home in East Londonderry again despite Brexit realities

  • Outgoing: Gregory Campbell
  • 2017 result: DUP hold
  • Majority: 8,842
  • Candidates: Gregory Campbell (DUP), Richard Holmes (UUP), Cara Hunter (SDLP), Chris McCaw (Alliance), Sean McNicholl (Aontu), Dermot Nicholl (Sinn Fein)
  • Electorate: 69,292
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

The result in the East Londonderry constituency could be described as somewhat of a foregone conclusion when you look at Gregory Campbell's performance in the 2017 election.

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He romped home at the time, having secured almost half of all votes cast (48.1%), a 5.8% increase on his vote from 2015.

Mr Campbell's 2017 success is no mean feat considering the constituency voted to remain in the 2016 EU referendum, albeit by a slim majority.

As the reality of Brexit has become more evident, this could affect the way the farming community in this constituency votes, which may not be in Mr Campbell's favour.

Gregory Campbell of the DUP

John Fillis, editor of the Coleraine Chronicle, believes the key to Mr Campbell's continued success is old-fashioned hard work and maintaining a profile in the constituency's biggest population concentration.

He said: "Gregory Campbell is a hard-working politician and he does keep in touch with local people and local groups.

"Although he is from Londonderry, he does have a constituency office in Coleraine, so there is a place for people to go to see him and he does put the work in.

"Coleraine is a strong unionist area and the bulk of his votes will come from here, Portrush and Portstewart - the Triangle, as it is known - and rural areas.

"It will, however, be interesting to see if his vote decreases this time with the controversies affecting the party as a whole, but even if that does happen it won't be enough to unseat him."

Geographically, this constituency covers some of Northern Ireland's most picturesque landscapes, from the Giant's Causeway, attracting two million visitors a year, and Mussenden Temple to the coastal towns of Portrush, Portstewart, Portballintrae and Bushmills.

It was also the place where, having vowed never to set foot on Irish soil after he was exiled to Iona, Colmcille came to settle a dispute amongst the Bards of Ireland, at Drumceatt near Limavady. Legend is he kept his vow by strapping two sods of turf from Iona to his feet before he made his voyage across the Irish Sea.

Demographically, the constituency is very divided. Coleraine and neighbouring towns of Portrush and Portstewart are staunchly unionist, while Dungiven and its hinterland villages stretching to the constituency boundary of Greysteel are nationalist strongholds.

Between the two sits Limavady, where the religious affiliation of the population of 8,000-plus is almost 50/50 split between those who identify as Protestant and those who identify as Catholic.

Aidan Farren, former editor of the Limavady Sentinel, said apathy amongst nationalist voters will work well for Gregory Campbell. He commented: "Nationalists in Limavady will look at previous results and see little point in voting, so despite the demographic breakdown of Limavady town, Gregory Campbell should secure more than half the overall number of votes cast.

"Sinn Fein's Dermot Nicholl will be a familiar face to the electorate in Limavady because he is a local councillor, so I expect him to do well, but people in Limavady have been asking who Cara Hunter (SDLP) and Sean McNicholl (Aontu) are.

"Neither of these candidates have had any political presence here before this campaign and I don't think nationalist voters will be motivated enough to go out and vote for a candidate they don't know, especially when they will already be confident that their vote won't change the overall result."

The SDLP’s Cara Hunter

East Londonderry, created in 1983, has always been in the hands of unionism.

Mr Campbell's predecessor William Ross (UUP) enjoyed an even higher percentage of the total votes cast - between 57% and 60% until 1997, when the DUP man was his party's candidate in this constituency for the first time.

Then he came second to Mr Ross, whose majority had slipped dramatically to 36% of total votes cast, but has held pole position since 2001, which interestingly saw the UUP slip down the scale and Sinn Fein move into second place - a position the party has held on to since.

East Londonderry has seen a number of boundary changes since its formation.

In 1995 Magherafelt was absorbed into Mid Ulster while in 2010 Claudy and Banagher, previously in the Foyle constituency, became part of East Londonderry.

While Sinn Fein is unlikely to take the seat from the DUP, Mr Nicholl will be looking to build on his success in the 2017 campaign when he secured an increase of 6.8% in the number of votes for the party, which accounted for 26.5% of the overall turnout which was 61.2%.

The SDLP and Aontu are both fielding candidates who may not be familiar to the electorate.

Ms Hunter is a sitting Derry and Strabane councillor representing the Derg ward in Co Tyrone and Dr McNicholl is a native of Armagh.

Chris McCaw of Alliance

Richard Holmes, representing the UUP, and Chris McCaw, representing Alliance, have both had their names on the ballot paper in 2017, but with just 7.6% and 6.2% respectively of the votes cast.

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