Assembly election: constituency profile

Mon, Apr 25, 2011, 01:00

Foyle: 6 seats

FOYLE IS still an SDLP stronghold; Sinn Féin had hoped to overtake their nationalist rivals in the Catholic-dominated constituency in 2007, however, they failed to do so.

The SDLP is now battling without a number of well-known party names in what used to be John Hume country. Former leader Mark Durkan last year confirmed he would not stand for the Assembly this time in order to concentrate on his work as a Westminster MP.

Another party stalwart former Derry mayor Mary Bradley is retiring, although the veteran Pat Ramsey, also a former SDLP mayor, is contesting again.

The party has adopted a four-candidate strategy, also fielding Durkan’s nephew Mark H Durkan, high-profile mayor Colum Eastwood and Pól Callaghan.

Despite the departure of the two big vote-getters, at least two and probably three SDLP candidates will make it.

Sinn Féin is fielding its two sitting MLAs; Raymond McCartney and Martina Anderson, the only woman candidate in the constituency, are joined by Paul Fleming, who is running in the Waterside.

In the three Assembly elections since 1998, this constituency has returned three SDLP MLAs, with Sinn Féin holding two and the DUP one.

While the possibility of Sinn Féin snatching a third seat from the SDLP’s grasp cannot be ruled out, the SDLP appears to remain quietly confident the make-up of the constituency will not change.

The DUP’s popular William Hay has served in the apolitical role of Stormont speaker of late. Unlike in the Republic, the role does not come with the bonus of automatic re-election. This will be no problem for Hay, who topped the poll with 6,960 first preferences in 2007.

He has no real challengers in the Unionist community, with the UUP not fielding a candidate in the constituency for the first time.

The UUP’s deputy chairman Terry Wright, from Derry, resigned his position this year in protest at the outgoing UUP Minister for Health Michael McGimpsey’s controversial shelving of the northwest cancer treatment centre planned for the constituency.

The indefatigable campaigner Eamonn McCann is standing as a People Before Profit candidate, having contested under the Socialist Environmental Alliance (SEA) banner in 2007.

While the journalist and commentator should make the contest interesting and put in a credible performance, his actual election would prove a shock to the political system.

Former BBC Radio Foyle journalist Paul McFadden is also running, with the support of prominent local businessman Garvan O’Doherty.