Battle for Foyle: Count set to begin

SDLP's Mark Durkan and Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion.
SDLP's Mark Durkan and Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion.

There will be little sleep for politicians standing in the Westminster election tonight as attention shifted to Foyle Arena where the counts for Foyle is taking place.

As voting closes across the city, the ballot boxes were tonight being sealed and transferred to the Foyle Arena where the verification of votes will take place before the count gets under way.

Clockwise from top left: Foyle candidates Elisha McCallion (SF), Mark Durkan (SDLP), John Doherty (Alliance), Shaun Harkin (PBP) and Gary Middleton (DUP).

Clockwise from top left: Foyle candidates Elisha McCallion (SF), Mark Durkan (SDLP), John Doherty (Alliance), Shaun Harkin (PBP) and Gary Middleton (DUP).

The snap election was triggered by Theresa May on April 18 and almost two months on today it was over to local people to give their verdict on the five candidates standing in Derry.

All eyes in the battle for Foyle are on the two candidates from the big parties, the SDLP and Sinn Fein.

In the last Westminster election in 2015, the SDLP’s Mark Durkan took the seat and received a massive 47.9% share of the overall vote (17,725), far ahead of second-placed Sinn Fein candidate Gearoid O hEara’s 31.6% (11,679 votes).

The SDLP veteran has occupied the Foyle seat in the House of Parliament for 12 years, following on from John Hume’s previous electoral success.

This time round Durkan is taking on first-time Westminster candidate, Sinn Fein’s Elisha McCallion.

There have been predictions that Mrs McCallion will make for a formidable challenger, and will close the gap on the SDLP.
However there is less certainty over whether the gulf that has existed between the two parties at previous parliamentary outings can be fully closed, particularly with the SDLP campaign team honing in on the fact that their party candidates will be taking their seats in the House of Parliament in the run up to Brexit.

However Mrs McCallion - whose party have argued that a vote for them will send a strong and clear anti-Brexit message back to the British government - has managed to top the poll at the recent Assembly elections, and was almost 2,000 votes clear of her nearest rival, SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood.

Also hoping to increase their party’s share of the vote are DUP candidate Gary Middleton, People Before Profit’s Shaun Harkin and Alliance’s John Doherty.

Turnout in Foyle at the Assembly election stood at 65%, with 45,317 votes cast.

All five candidates and their teams have been campaigning hard on the streets over the past two months in a bid to get people out to vote, just three months on since the electorate last headed to the polls in March. 
But it remains to be seen whether election fatigue coupled with torrential downpours today dampened enthusiasm and affected turnout.