ELECTION 2022: Unionism in fight to hold onto single seat in Londonderry

There are likely to be two key battlegrounds in the Foyle constituency.

By Niall Deeney
Sunday, 1st May 2022, 3:02 pm
A view of the Peace Bridge in Londonderry at the heart of the Foyle constituency
A view of the Peace Bridge in Londonderry at the heart of the Foyle constituency

An ambitious SDLP is fielding three candidates this time around as it hopes to cement the dominance over Sinn Fein that became apparent when Colum Eastwood won a crushing victory over Elisha McCallion in the General Election of 2019.

The scale of the victory prompted an internal review in Foyle last year that was followed by the MLAs Martina Anderson and Karen Mullan stepping down, with the party’s current candidates Padraig Delargey and Ciara Ferguson being co-opted to replace them.

The second key battleground comes in the contest for what since 1998 has been the sole unionist seat.

It was won successfully in 2017 by the DUP’s Gary Middleton in the first election of the five-seat era, but with a slim margin over People Before Profit’s Eamonn McCann.

Mr Middleton’s unionist challengers this time around come in the form of his former party colleague Ryan McCready, a decorated former soldier who joined the UUP last summer, and Elizabeth Neely, a health worker from a farming background who is standing for the TUV.

The DUP candidate believes he is best placed to win a sole unionist seat in Foyle as he warned against division.

“It is vital that the unionist community retainS a seat here in the Foyle constituency,” Mr Middleton told the News Letter.

“If unionism loses the seat it will be the first time in 100 years that unionism hasn’t had representation in the Foyle constituency at either the Assembly or Westminster. There is a lot on the line, and unionism can’t afford to be divided.

“Going by the figures from 2017, it is clear that there is just about a quota for unionism and with division, that seat could be lost.”

He added: “There are a range of issues but I find that, particularly within the unionist communities, we are focusing on trying to get the Northern Ireland Protocol removed.

“I believe I’m best placed to win the seat, based on not just previous results but based on the work that we have done on the ground.”

The UUP candidate, meanwhile, said the cost-of-living crisis is “overwhelmingly” the main issue on the doorstep.

“People are finding it difficult,” Mr McCready said.

“The gas, the electricity, the heating oil. Their concern is why we are not using the £320-odd million [in the Assembly’s budget] for immediate need right now.

“That’s when we have to explain that it needs to be allocated by an Executive and the facts are there – those who walked out walked out, and prioritised other issues above everything else.”

Mr McCready added: “I’m going to go into government, I’m going to take my seat, and I’m not walking away. That is a stark difference.”

TUV candidate Ms Neely said: “The main issue is the sea border. Any time I’m knocking on the doors it’s the protocol. People are so, so angry that the DUP has let them down. I was a DUP supporter and I joined the TUV in 2020.

“People were DUP but now they’re TUV. We have a good chance of taking the unionist seat.”

Beyond the unionist contest, there are some interesting possibilities.

Last time around, People Before Profit candidate Eamonn McCann won nearly 5,000 first preference votes but failed to make it across the line. With Mr McCann not standing this time around, and the Derry City and Strabane councillor Shaun Harkin on the ballot paper for People Before Profit in his stead, it is unclear where those votes will end up this time around.

The Alliance Party has also returned as a force in politics in the Foyle area, having won two seats on the local council in 2019 for the first time in eight decades.

And it remains to be seen whether Sinn Fein’s refresh in putting forward two fresh faces will be enough to see off a bullish SDLP bid to increase its ranks.

OUTGOING MLAs

Gary Middleton (DUP)

Mark H Durkan (SDLP)

Sinead McLaughlin (SDLP)

Ciara Ferguson (SF)

Padraig Delargy (SF)

CANDIDATES

Rachel Ferguson (Alliance)

Emmet Doyle (Aontu)

Gary Middleton (DUP)

Gillian Hamilton (Green)

Colly McLaughlin (IRSP)

Shaun Harkin (PBP)

Brian Tierney (SDLP)

Mark H Durkan (SDLP)

Sinead McLaughlin (SDLP)

Ciara Ferguson (SF)

Padraig Delargy (SF)

Elizabeth Neely (TUV)

Ryan McCready (UUP)

Anne McCloskey (Ind)

December 2019 general election result

Colum Eastwood (SDLP) 26,881 votes, 57%, ELECTED

Elisha McCallion (Sinn Fein) 9,771 votes, 20.7%

Gary Middleton (DUP) 4,773 votes, 10.1

Anne McCloskey (Aontu) 2,032 votes, 4.3%

Shaun Harkin (People Before Profit) 1,332 votes, 2.8%

Rachael Ferguson (Alliance) 1,267 votes, 2.7%

Darren Guy (UUP) 1,008 votes 2.3%

March 2017 Stormont election result

Elisha McCallion (Sinn Fein) 9,205 first preference votes, 20.63%

Colum Eastwood (SDLP) 7,240 first preference votes 16.23%

Raymond McCartney (Sinn Fein) 7,145 first preference votes 16.01%

Mark H Durkan (SDLP) 6,948 first preference votes 15.57%

Gary Middleton (DUP) 5,975 first preference votes 13.39%

Eamonn McCann (People Before Profit) 4,760 first preference votes 10.67%

Julia McKee (UUP) 1,660 first preference votes 3.72%

Colm Cavanagh (Alliance) 1,124 first preference votes 2.52%

Shannon Downey (Green) 242 first preference votes 0.54%

John Lindsay (CISTA) 196 first preference votes 0.44%

Stuart Canning (Conservative) 77 first preference votes 0.17%

Arthur McGuinness (Independent) 44 first preference votes 0.1