Newly elected Sinn Fein Foyle MLA, Elisha McCallion, has said she is excited and ready to get to work as part of her party’s formidable Assembly team.
The 34-years-old from Galliagh will be among the youngest of the 90 MLAs returned to Stormont after topping to poll in Foyle with a mammoth 9,200 first preference votes.
Speaking about the reaction since her election, Mrs. McCallion said: “It’s been incredibly positive. I have had my phone charged about five times a day and I want to take the opportunity to thank those well wishers and all those who took the time to go out and vote.
“I also want to thank the team who have been behind us for the past six weeks for the absolutely incredible work they have done.
“There is always a lot of work that goes into an election, but it is more difficult when it is a snap election and Sinn Fein activists really put their shoulders to the wheel.”
The former Mayor of Derry & Strabane said the increased mandate Sinn Fein was returning with gave them a strong position heading back into the talks.
Mrs. McCallion said that the stance taken by former deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness and the party earlier this year in the wake of the Renewable Heating Incentive scheme revelations and a host of other issues relating to equality and respect had resonated with people.
Speaking en route to Stormont yesterday, Mrs. McCallion said: “I think there is great encouragement amongst us all that our message was well received. It was something we sensed over the past weeks and months since that position was taken. People were saying very clearly that the position we had taken was the right position and they were 100 per cent behind us.”
Paying tribute to Martin McGuinness, she said: “I dedicated my campaign to Martin and I said it would be very difficult to fill his shoes. I will certainly do everything I can to ensure the legacy he has worked so hard for continues .
“I want to pay tribute to Martin and the leadership he has shown not only for our city, but for Ireland as well.”
Speaking on the issues she wants to see addressed at the Assembly, Mrs. McCallion added: “I think there are a number of priorities we need to be considering- the Executive itself, and job creation needs to be considered, particularly in terms of the north west. There needs to be some sort of focus in relation to job creation.
“In terms of infrastructure, the A5 and the A6, and the expansion of Magee, continue to be priorities and will certainly be something I will be keeping an eye on.
“I have a particular interest in youth, and being a voice for young people, alongside the bigger issues, is something I want to focus on. Obviously the young people are our future, and the reality is a lot don’t see a future in the north, so we need to turn that around; we need to give them hope and opportunities.”
Mrs. McCallion is the only woman among the five MLAs returned for Foyle and having experience of the community sector, said she was aware of various issues on the ground and raised during the campaign that she planned to hone in on at the Assembly.
Sinn Fein is returning to the newly streamlined Assembly with 28 MLAs, now just one less than the DUP, with a 4 per cent increase in the party’s vote across the north.
For the first time in history, Sinn Fein out polled the SDLP in Foyle, returning both Elisha McCallion and Raymond McCartney comfortably within hours of the count getting under way at Foyle Arena on Friday.
SDLP Leader, Colum Eastwood and running mate Mark H Durkan, were also returned to the Assembly, with the party holding their 12 seats across the north. For the first time, the number of nationalist MLAs is now greater than the number of Unionists, with the DUP losing 10 seats compared to its 2016 performance, and crucially losing their Petition of Concern in the process.
DUP MLA Gary Middleton, meanwhile, managed to fend off the challenge for the fifth and final seat in Foyle from People Before Profit’s Eamonn McCann. Had Mr McCann been returned, it would have meant Sinn Fein and DUP returned to the Assembly with equal numbers.