Next month’s Stormont election is gearing up to be an intriguing one in the Foyle constituency with key showdowns between big hitters in both nationalist and unionist camps.
With the SDLP and Sinn Fein vying for three seats and the DUP, UUP and an independent facing off for another seat, the local poll looks like it’s going to be a fascinating affair.
Throw into the mix a number of high-profile independent candidates - who have the potential to upset the apple cart - and we have all the ingredients for a real ding-dong battle.
Of course, alot of attention is being paid to the contest between the SDLP and Sinn Fein - made all the more interesting with Martin McGuinness’ decision to switch from Mid-Ulster to his home town.
The deputy First Minister says this move was prompted by his belief that “Sinn Féin can emerge in the future as the largest political party in the North.”
“That and the ongoing growth of Sinn Féin in the rest of Ireland would represent dramatic change in the political landscape of this island,” he says.
He says he not only wants to augment the work the existing Sinn Fein team is doing in Derry but also consolidate the delivery of key projects for the north west.
Sinn Fein remains hopeful that, with Mr McGuinness’ name on the election ticket, they can increase their tally in Foyle from two MLAs to three.
Colum Eastwood, meanwhile - who is leading his party into an election for the first time - believes the SDLP can again top the poll in his Foyle constituency.
He says he is not in the least bit daunted by Martin McGuinness’ move and insists his party’s proven record of delivering for Derry will secure it three seats next month.
He recently told the ‘Journal’ that, under his leadership, the SDLP will offer a new brand of “progressive nationalism” that “shows politics is actually capable of creating the change that we all want to see.”
The electorate, he insists, has been badly let down by the devolved government at Stormont.
“It has simply failed to live up to the hopes of our people - nationalist and unionist... People are united in what they see as the abject failure of political parties to live up to what was expected of them... After nine years in office, it has to be said that those in power in the North of Ireland have done very little with that power.”
Turning to the unionist race in Derry, we have the DUP, UUP and an independent candidate - formerly a DUP MLA - fighting for election.
The DUP’s Gary Middleton, Julia Kee, of the UUP, and Maurice Devenney, recently resigned from the DUP, are all chasing the unionist vote. Gary Middleton has warned of the danger of a split vote.
“The more unionist candidates there are in the field, the more split the unionist vote will be - and that’s a real concern we’re getting on the ground,” he said.
Journalist and campaigner Eamonn McCann - who first ran for election in the 1960s - is standing in the Foyle poll under the People Before Profit banner and says the party represents “do-it-yourself, working class politics”.
Other candidates with significant profiles in Derry are Dr. Ann McCloskey, a GP based in Shantallow, and benefits advice worker, Kathleen Bradley.
Dr McCloskey says she is standing for election to “give a voice to people” while Kathleen Bradley says she is running for election because “the people of Derry need a change.”
The full list of candidates in the Foyle constituency is as follows: Kathleen Bradley (Independent), Maurice Devenney (Independent), Gerard Diver (SDLP), Alan Dunlop (NI Conservatives), Mark H. Durkan (SDLP), Colum Eastwood (SDLP), Mary Hassan (Green (NI), Julia Kee (UUP), John Lindsay (CISTA), Eamonn McCann (People Before Profit), Raymond McCartney (SF), Chris McCaw (Alliance) Dr. Ann McCloskey (Independent), Martin McGuinness (SF), Maeve McLaughlin (SF), Gary Middleton (DUP).