Foyle profile: McGuinness’s absence could be decisive

Sinn Féin may lose out without former leader while Eamonn McCann seeks re-election

Martin McGuinness: Sinn Féin has two strong candidates in Elisha McCallion  and Raymond McCartney, but neither can match the enigmatic qualities of their party colleague. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Martin McGuinness: Sinn Féin has two strong candidates in Elisha McCallion and Raymond McCartney, but neither can match the enigmatic qualities of their party colleague. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The Assembly elections in the constituency of Foyle, which runs from Derry to Strabane, will be dominated by one individual.

That, of course, is Martin McGuinness who recently stood down as deputy first minister on health grounds. It is his absence from the ballot paper that could determine the outcome of the final seat.

With one fewer seat in every constituency, there is a distinct possibility Sinn Féin could be the party that loses out here.

The SDLP once dominated Foyle but Sinn Féin has been creeping up to its support levels, not so much in Westminster, but certainly for the Assembly elections.

Last year the SDLP lost one of its three seats to the surprise package, Eamonn McCann of People Before Profit. It would be a stretch to see the party being reduced to a single seat – if that were to happen, it would be reflective of of a nightmarish day for the SDLP across the six counties of Northern Ireland.

If you look at both big parties, they are almost equal in votes. The quota has increased to 16.66 per cent. With 30 per cent of the vote, and running two very high-profile candidates, it would be a major shock to see the SDLP lose a seat. Party leader Colum Eastwood should top the poll, with Mark H Durkan coming in third or fourth.

‘Cash for ash’

There has always been a unionist quota here, but there is a slight question mark over outgoing DUP MLA Gary Middleton, especially if the DUP gets a hit from the “cash for ash” scandal.

Once smaller parties such as People Before Profit make a breakthrough, they tend to consolidate. It may be less than a year since the last election, but McCann looks like he might increase his first-preference share. He might also benefit from the absence of Independent Anne McCloskey from the field.

McGuinness’s enforced absence is sure to be a huge motivating and emotional factor for Sinn Féin. Veteran republican Raymond McCartney is a solid vote-getter. Former mayor of Derry Elisha McCallion is committed and unflinching. Still, neither can match McGuinness’s enigmatic qualities.

Prediction

It’s hard to read. In a dog-fight between Sinn Féin, PBP and the DUP it could be Sinn Féin that loses out.

Candidates

Stuart Canning (Conservative); Colm Cavanagh (Alliance); Shannon Downey (Greens); Mark H Durkan (SDLP); Colum Eastwood (SDLP); Julia Kee (UUP); John Lindsay (CISTA); Elisha McCallion (SF); Eamonn McCann (PBP); Raymond McCartney (SF) ; Arthur McGuinness (Ind); Gary Middleton (DUP).