The Battle for Foyle

Sinn Fein Assembly candidates Raymond McCartney and Elisha McCallion arrived at Lenamore with MEP Martina Anderson and (right), SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood with daughter Rosa leaving The Model Primary School.
Sinn Fein Assembly candidates Raymond McCartney and Elisha McCallion arrived at Lenamore with MEP Martina Anderson and (right), SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood with daughter Rosa leaving The Model Primary School.

Candidates are today facing an anxious wait as the countdown begins to find out who will represent Derry in an Assembly already facing an uncertain future before it is even formed.

The 12 candidates running for election are expected to gather with their election teams this morning as the count gets under way at Foyle Arena in the Waterside.

With the number of Foyle Assembly seats available reduced from six to five, uncertainty remains over who could be in trouble and whether it could have implications for the SDLP and Sinn Fein in terms of nationalist dominance in Derry.

Both parties have been under no illusion that every vote secured could be vital, and have been canvassing hard across the city over recent weeks, as have People Before Profit, hoping to return Eamonn McCann to Stormont.

A key factor could revolve around where those who voted 10 months ago for independent candidates have cast their ballots this time round. Anne McCloskey received 3,410 first preferences and Kathleen Bradley 902 back in May 2016, and smaller parties and independents standing this time round may be hoping to claim some of these votes to widen their footprint in Derry.

On the Unionist side, it remains to be seen whether events which led to the collapsing of the Assembly will impact upon the DUP vote.

At polling stations across the city yesterday afternoon, canvassers reported brisk turnout in some areas such as Trench Road and Hazelbank, while in other parts of Derry there were spurts and lulls.

And the issues exercising voters were many and varied, among them jobs, health, housing, education, abortion, the Renewable Heating Incentive scheme revelations and sectarianism.

Speaking outside the polling station at St Therese’s P.S. in Galliagh, one couple who both work in public services said health and education were major areas of concern for them, as well as the threat of Direct Rule. “They just need to wise up and get on with it,” she said.

Another man who had just cast his ballot said anti-internment and the stop-and-search operations conducted by security forces in Derry had been the deciding factor in how he voted.

At St Eithne’s P.S. in Hazelbank one man said that he had decided to vote for who he believed was most likely to bring about reunification. “I still dream of getting a united Ireland,” he said.

Another voter said her pro-life stance and political honesty were the issues exercising her. A third voter said the RHI scandal was at the forefront of many people’s minds, along with jobs for Derry and the A6 , which he said was supposed to be on the cards since 1965, following the “political closure” of the Great Northern Railway. “We need fresh minds just out of university who can enhance the whole country,” he added.

Across the river at Trench Road P.S. one 59-year-old woman said her main concern was ensuring the protection of the unborn child while she was also worried about benefit cuts. Another voter hit out at changes to DLA and other benefits. “What is the point of having a government if the government is not for the people?” he asked.

At Lisnagelvin P.S. one woman was determined that “we stay in the UK”, while a different family said Arlene Foster should have stepped aside. The young woman and her parents expressed concern over the “hugely insulting” unionist attitude to the Irish Language Act, lack of jobs, social housing, Brexit and called for genuine equality, including joint First Ministers in the new Assembly.

Back in the Cityside, at Carnhill P.S. one voter spoke out against sectarianism and warned that Arlene Foster should not be leading any political party. The woman and her companion also said a lack of investment in Derry had also coloured their voting. An 18-year-old at the same polling station meanwhile said he was “fed up with the DUP”.

At Holy Child P.S. in Creggan, two older people aged 88 and 84, and the 43-year-old woman accompanying them, said healthcare and education were issues close to their hearts. A 93-year-old man heading to the ballot box at the same station meanwhile delivered his verdict on politicians: “As far as I’m concerned they are all the bloody same.”