Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

Foyle: Colum Eastwood wins back seat for SDLP with record breaking victory

  • Eligible electorate: 74,346
  • Votes polled: 47,370
  • Valid votes: 47,144
  • Turnout: 63.72%
  • Majority: 17,110
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

It might have been billed as a two-horse race in Foyle, but there was one clear winner by a country mile.

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Last time around the Foyle MP seat was snatched from the SDLP by Sinn Fein with just 169 votes.

The seat, which had been in SDLP hands since 1983 when first Nobel Laureate John Hume then party leader Mark Durkan secured it for some 34 years, had been taken in 2017 by former Londonderry Mayor Elisha McCallion.

Last night they took it back in a monumental, landslide victory, winning some 26,881 votes, almost three times as many as the incumbent Sinn Fein MP and the biggest majority the party has ever experienced in the city.

As box after box of ballots were counted and the piles under Mr Eastwood’s name began to stack high, Sinn Fein secretly conceded defeat early on in the evening and SDLP campaigners started to get more confident. Even areas such as Creggan and Mrs McCallion’s own neighbourhood, Galliagh, came out in force for Mr Eastwood.

A supremely confident Mr Eastwood walked into the count centre with his wife Rachael shortly after midnight and said the clear victory for the party marked the "revival and rebirth" of the SDLP.

“The people of Derry want a voice in Westminster,” he said. “They want someone to speak for them, someone to fight for them and they’ve said that very clearly today. We have been hearing on the ground that people want not only a voice around Brexit and a voice in Westminster, but also for politicians to get back to work and fix the health service.”

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After waiting for several hours Mr Eastwood was finally declared MP shortly before 3am to cheers from his exhausted but jubilant campaign team.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood is returned as MP for Foyle. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.

Speaking afterwards, he reiterated that this was a victory for his party, but also for his city.

“We are absolutely delighted by this result,” he said. “It is a massive victory for the SDLP, but also a big victory for the people of Derry who haven’t just spoken, they have roared.

“They have said very clearly that they want representation in Westminster but the overriding message from this election is that they want people to get back to work.”

He said that the huge vote marked a new day for the SDLP.

“This is absolutely a fantastic day for the SDLP,” he said. “Claire Hanna has had a tremendous result. Our vote is up right across the north. We have done very well. Bit we need to listen to what people are saying. This is not about political parties or individual candidates. This is about fixing the problems and getting back to work, because people are sick of it. They are sick of the party politics and of the squabbling. They just want politicians to do what they were elected to do. And we are ready to do that.”

Outgoing MP Elisha McCallion congratulated Mr Eastwood on a "mighty impressive victory", and said it had been an honour to serve the people of Foyle for two years.

She said that a wise man once told her "republicans never retire" and that it "wouldn’t be the last you’ll see of Elisha McCallion".

Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion pictured at the count centre in Meadowbank Sports Arena, Magherafelt. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

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