General Election 2017: Foyle set for showdown between SDLP and Sinn Féin

The River Foyle in Londonderry, spanned by the Peace Bridge
The River Foyle in Londonderry, spanned by the Peace Bridge

The only show in town in the overwhelmingly-nationalist Foyle constituency is the battle between the SDLP and Sinn Féin.

Mark Durkan has held the seat for the SDLP since 2005 and his party has returned a Foyle MP in every general election since the constituency was created in 1983.

Mr Durkan also increased the margin of his victory between 2010 and 2015.

He out-polled his nearest challenger, Sinn Fein’s Gearóid Ó hEára, by over 6,000 votes in 2015, compared to the 4,824 votes that separated Mr Durkan and the 2011 Sinn Fein candidate Martina Anderson.

Despite those figures, Sinn Féin are buoyed by having secured a first at the recent Assembly elections by outpolling the SDLP here.

Sinn Féin’s 16,350 combined total of first-preference votes in March was over 2,000 more than the SDLP’s total.

Their Westminster candidate, Elisha McCallion, proved her popularity by topping that poll.

However, Assembly elections and general elections are two different beasts thanks to the first-past-the-post system, and Mark Durkan remains the favourite in this latest election.

As for unionists, who are not numerous enough to elect a candidate of their own, options are limited.

Only one unionist is standing, the DUP’s Gary Middleton.

The choice for many, then, will be whether to vote tactically to prevent a Sinn Féin victory or whether to follow the advice of Mr Middleton and “put down a marker” by registering a “pro-union vote for a pro-union party”.

The Alliance candidate John Doherty is unlikely to make much headway in a constituency that hasn’t traditionally been receptive to his party’s message.

People Before Profit’s Shaun Harkin faces a similarly uphill battle.

Candidates for 2017:

• John Doherty, Alliance

• Mark Durkan, SDLP

• Shaun Harkin, People Before Profit

• Elisha McCallion, Sinn Fein

• Gary Middleton, DUP

2015 results:

Mark Durkan (SDLP): 17,725 (47.9%)

G Ó Heára (SF): 11,679 (31.6%)

G Middleton (DUP): 4,573 (12.4%)

J Kee (UUP): 1,226 (3.3%)

D Hawthorne (Alliance): 835 (2.3%)

K Thompson (Ukip): 832 (2.2%)

H Badenoch (Cons.): 132 (0.4%)

Electorate: 70,036

Turnout: 37,528 (53.6%)

Combined unionist vote: 18.3%

2010 results:

Mark Durkan (SDLP): 16,922 (44.7%)

M Anderson (SF): 12,098 (31.9%)

M Devenney (DUP): 4,489 (11.9%)

E McCann (People Before Profit): 2,936 (7.8%)

D Harding (Ulster Cons. and Unionists): 1,221 (3.2%)

K McGrellis (Alliance): 223 (0.6%)

Electorate: 65,843

Turnout: 38,190 (58%)

Combined unionist vote: 15.1%