#AE16 #Foyle: Eamonn McCann’s strong chance likely to slip to a reviving SDLP vote

Candidates: [SDLP] Colum Eastwood, Mark H. Durkan, Gerard Diver; [Sinn Fein] Martin McGuinness, Maeve McLoughlin, Raymond McCartney; [DUP] Gary Middleton; [UUP] Julia Kee; [PBP] Eamonn McCann; [Alliance] Chris McCaw; [Greens] Mary Hassan; [NI Conservatives] Alan Dunlop; [CISTA NI] John Lindsay; [Independents] Kathleen Bradley; Maurice Devenney; Dr. Ann McCloskey.

Eleven of its 28 wards are amongst the 10% most deprived in Northern Ireland. But the real paradox of Foyle is that it also has the second highest rate (after uber prosperous South Belfast) of people who go into higher education.

Foyle is really ‘greater Derry’. West bank wise, it grabs everything not in the Republic. On the east, it balloons through rural areas out to the airport, running down through Lettershandoney then hitting the river at Magheramason.

Interestingly Nicholas Whyte’s on Ark notes that only one seat is in contention here: ie, the third SDLP seat. But, he says “if they lose it it will not be to SF but to a local independent or small party candidate”.

SF’s public optimism rests on the Assembly vote in 2011 when, proportionately, Sinn Fein only trailed the SDLP by a few hundred 1st preferences.

They then overtook them in Nicholas’ extrapolated council results of 2014, although that rests awkwardly on the withdrawal of the SDLP whip from Cllr Jimmy Carr just before that election.

Last year in the Westminster elections, however, Mark Durkan pulled in 17,725 votes, bringing his vote share to a healthy 47.9%. The party won’t get that this time as lent unionist votes will be needed to play their own home game this time.

In 2011, Eastwood was the backmarker in the pack with Mark H Durkan leading the way. In addition, veteran Pat Ramsey (originally from the Bogside till he was forced to move out) stepped down before Christmas for then councillor Gerard Diver.

On the Sinn Fein side, the problem is two-fold. In this highly competitive constituency,  SF votes over the last three elections have been flat-lining: 11,716 in 2015, and dropping slightly to 11,679 for the Westminster candidate last year.

A Martin McGuinness boost ought to flush out soft Sinn Fein voters, but that boost has not been evident in recent years. They must also balance the ticket: and in Maeve McLaughlin they have a co-opted MLA who has to face an election.

Eamonn McCann is in the field again for People Before Profit. His 2011 Assembly performance gave the SDLP a run for their money losing to Eastwood by a few hundred votes. He might be a shoo-in if it wasn’t for one major complicating factor.

Dr Anne McCloskey, an independent based in Shantallow is running on a strongly pro-Life ticket. She has the support of two IRSP councillors and another from 32 County Sovereignty. So #TeamMcCloskey almost entirely consists of dissident Republicans.

It’s an odd combination, not least since the IRSP are simultaneously involved in a pro-choice campaign just across the border in Donegal. Buoyed by their council results (independents took 3890 or 11% of the total vote), they see this as an upgrade opportunity.

Sinn Fein has been trying (thus far with little success) to flag this situation to a press that seems not to be interested. It’s a block to any outside chance of taking the third seat and an unwanted drag on McCann who is the only outsider with a chance.

Despite the hoo-ha over former DUP man Maurice Devenney running as an independent on the Unionist side, internal transfers and a healthy vote figure in 2011 well in excess of a Unionist quota should see his former party colleague Gary Middleton home safely.

 Prediction: SDLP 3, Sinn Fein 2, DUP 1

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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