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Election battlegrounds #GE19 : Foyle – Slugger O’Toole

Whilst exchanges were civil when Elisha McCallion and Colum Eastwood ran into each other on the canvass in Derry recently the battle of Foyle will be one of the most hard fought contests of this election.

Elisha McCallion won the seat from former SDLP Leader Mark Durkan in 2017 in a result that took many political watchers by surprise. South Down was expected to fall to Sinn Féin but Foyle seemed at least another election away.

The gap was just 169 votes and the turnout was significant at 65.6%.

Because the margin is so thin everything now becomes a factor that could impact the result, the turnout, the weather and how many votes the smaller parties will take from the two main runners.

McCallion was a popular councillor here before topping the poll at the 2017 Assembly election and then doing the same at the Westminster election shortly afterwards. A personal vote as well as a Sinn Féin vote will be crucially important as she tries to keep ahead of the SDLP.

There was some debate about who the SDLP might run here with Foyleside Councillor Mary Durkan being mooted as a potential threat to McCallion and better placed to attract strategic unionist voters. However SDLP leader Colum Eastwood decided to take a political risk here and has generated momentum in this campaign. Being first out of the traps in announcing they would stand aside in a number of constituencies as part of a Remain pact may play well with some nationalist voters in Derry as well.

The DUP’s Gary Middleton expects the pact in Belfast to cost the SDLP unionist votes that he hopes should benefit him mainly. He will be hopeful of finishing third here ahead of the other riders.

Alliance picked up 2 seats here as a result of the local election surge. Their candidate is Rachael Ferguson that was elected from the Faughan DEA to the council.

Shaun Harkin is flying the flag for People Before Profit who also have 2 councillors elected from Derry. This is their second strongest constituency after West Belfast.

Aontú will be hoping to pick up their best result of the election in Foyle via Dr. Anne McCloskey who got 1,032 votes in Ballyarnett earlier this year. McCloskey received 3,410 votes when she stood as an Independent candidate in the 2016 Assembly election so she certainly has a reasonable personal vote here. She will be seeking to pick up many of the Independent voters from the local election as well as both traditional Sinn Féin and SDLP voters who feel strongly about the abortion issue.

Waterside Councillor Darren Guy is standing for the UUP. The party did not put up a candidate here in 2017.

NIcholas Whyte has projected that the local government results framed within the Foyle constituency were SDLP 12,335 and Sinn Féin 10,423 which indicates some SDLP recovery in the area. However those figures will of course change at a Westminster poll when those who voted for Independent candidates decide who to switch to and smaller parties get squeezed.

Both the SDLP and Sinn Féin plan to launch their manifestos in Derry which indicates how much both parties value the prize of holding this north west seat.

At the moment the SDLP are favourites with Paddy Power but this remains such a tight race that there will be very few willing to bet their house on it either way.

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