Northern Ireland Election 2016

NI Assembly election: Foyle to see showdown between Martin McGuinness and Colum Eastwood

Colum Eastwood and Martion McGuinness Image copyright Pacemaker/BBC
Image caption The election will feature a showdown between SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness

Elections in Northern Ireland's second city are always strongly contested and closely watched, but this year the poll in Foyle will be all the more symbolic and significant.

It is the scene of a showdown between the nationalist parties and their Stormont leaders.

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness has represented Mid Ulster since 1998 - but now he is switching to run in his home city.

"Moving to Derry is a very clear statement that I recognise more work needs to be done in this city," he said.

On a visit to a factory in Campsie, he highlighted his trips abroad as deputy first minister, aimed at persuading foreign firms to invest.

He said that in his time as education minister, he left an education infrastructure in Londonderry which was "second to none".

"The work I've been involved in during the last assembly has effectively put in place a state-of-the-art hospital at Altnagelvin, with a new radiotherapy unit and hopefully a new north wing to complement the south wing," he said.

"Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on these projects."

Sinn Féin hope that having Mr McGuinness's name on the ticket will increase their tally in Foyle from two MLAs to three.

But the new SDLP leader - who is leading his party into an election for the first time - believes the SDLP will remain on top in the constituency of former leader John Hume.

Canvassing in the Shantallow area, 32-year-old Colum Eastwood said he is picking up lots of frustration with the Northern Ireland Executive.

He told one resident on the doorstep that the SDLP will not take part in any government which does not "properly invest in Derry".

"We can't have any more of our young people leaving here to find work," Mr Eastwood told the voter.

He thinks the SDLP will hold their three seats in Foyle.

Image caption The DUP's Gary Middleton said he was concerned about a potential split in the unionist vote

"We welcome Martin home," Mr Eastwood said, with more than a hint of irony.

"But he has to be prepared to run on his record.

"People in Derry are very frustrated at the lack of delivery of this Stormont Executive which he jointly heads up.

"So we welcome Martin to Derry and we look forward to people giving their verdict on his record."

The DUP have had an MLA here since the first assembly election in 1998.

Gary Middleton, co-opted into the assembly last year, is hoping to win the seat at the polls.

'Independent voice'

His predecessor as MLA, Maurice Devenney, had been co-opted to replace the former Speaker William Hay - but his stay at Stormont lasted only five months.

After resigning his MLA position, Mr Devenney was suspended from the DUP and then resigned. In a twist to the unionist race, he is now running as an independent.

When he announced his decision, Mr Devenney said: "I will be providing an independent voice and offering to continue my lobbying and work on the ground that I already do as a councillor, albeit on a larger scale to a greater number of people."

Mr Middleton is warning of the danger of a split vote.

Image caption Elections in Northern Ireland's second city are always strongly contested

"Obviously 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.

"There's one unionist seat here and we in the DUP think we're best placed to take that seat."

He highlights jobs, investment and apprenticeships as issues which are "vitally important".

'Fresh view'

The Ulster Unionist candidate, Julia Kee, is a community worker in Tullyally.

"I bring a fresh and honest view, a new view, a progressive view, to politics here," she said.

"Because I have worked in the community for 12 years, I can get right down to the grass roots where I know what people want and need.

"I have worked very hard here for the community."

Journalist Eamonn McCann of People Before Profit came a close seventh in 2011 and is hoping to get over the line this time.

He said his party represents "do-it-yourself, working-class politics".

Image caption People Before Profit's Eamonn McCann said his party represents "do-it-yourself, working-class politics"

"We will represent the people who are left behind, irrespective of what community they come from.

"We think from that perspective we can find the key to supposedly awkward questions - the questions to do with identity, the questions to do with the need for truth."

Derry was the crucible of the conflict and the cradle of the peace process.

It is an intensely political place and the next few weeks will see one of the most intriguing contests of the 2016 assembly election.

Confirmed candidates for Foyle constituency:

Maurice Devenney, Independent

Gerard Diver, SDLP

Mark H Durkan, SDLP

Colum Eastwood, SDLP

Mary Hassan, Green Party

Julia Kee, UUP

John Lindsay, CISTA (Cannabis is safer than alcohol)

Eamonn McCann, People Against Profit

Raymond McCartney, Sinn Féin

Anne McCloskey, Independent

Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin

Maeve McLaughlin, Sinn Féin

Gary Middleton, DUP

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