Election 2019

Foyle Constituency Profile: A two-horse race to be won by a nose?

Horse race Image copyright Matt King
Image caption Six candidates are hoping to take the Foyle seat from Sinn Féin's Elisha McCallion

Two challengers locked in a bitter political race have come face-to-face on the streets of Londonderry.

As chance encounters go, this one was awkward when two canvass teams collided.

But there was no sharp exchange, no angry words. Instead, Elisha McCallion and Colum Eastwood posed for a photograph.

An unexpected encounter in an unpredictable contest for the Foyle seat.

Image copyright Elisha McCallion
Image caption SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, is hoping to win back the Foyle Seat, which his party lost in 2017

It is likely that both candidates will be just as close when the votes are counted on 11 December.

Who are the runners in the race for Foyle?

In 2017, Ms McCallion won the seat from SDLP's Mark Durkan by just 169 votes.

Mr Durkan was the Foyle MP for 12 years before losing his seat.

Sinn Féin's victory ended the SDLP's 34-year grip on the Foyle seat.

Image caption Colum Eastwood believes many people in the Foyle constituency are angry that they are not being fully represented at Westminster

"I'm not listening to the bookies or commentators but I am listening to frustrated voters every day complaining about the crisis in the health service and education at a time when Stormont is shut down", said Mr Eastwood.

"People are also worried about Brexit and the potential fallout for the border, jobs and economy and they are angry that we have no one in Westminster representing them.

"The only voice from Derry they hear in the House of Commons is Gregory Campbell and that needs to change".

Image caption Sinn Féin's Elisha McCallion became Foyle MP in 2017

But Ms McCallion has no regrets about staying away from the House of Commons.

"I go to Westminster regularly, but I don't fall asleep on green benches, that is the difference", she said.

Pointing to her record as Foyle MP in helping to secure a city deal, she said: "I have delivered the single biggest investment ever seen into this region.

What is the city deal?

"It did not come as a result of hard work on the green benches but in directly engaging with the British government."

The battle in Foyle may be framed as a two-horse race but the other five candidates will certainly help shape the final result.

Image caption DUP candidate Gary Middleton said unionists no longer see "much of a difference between the SDLP and Sinn Féin"

Unionists have in the past voted tactically in Foyle to help secure the seat for the SDLP but the DUP claim that pattern may not be repeated this time.

Its candidate, MLA Gary Middleton, said unionists no longer see "much of a difference between the SDLP and Sinn Féin".

Mr Middleton has predicted that the unofficial pact between the two parties in North Belfast to target a DUP seat will likely cost the SDLP votes in Foyle.

What's at stake in Northern Ireland?

Aontú's first and only elected politician in Northern Ireland is contesting the seat in Foyle.

Councillor Ann McCloskey is standing on an anti-abortion ticket and expects to take votes from both the SDLP and Sinn Féin.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Northern Ireland voters will go to the polls for the third time this year on 12 December

The Alliance Party and People Before Profit also made gains in the local government elections earlier this year - both claiming two seats each.

Their candidates, Rachel Ferguson (Alliance) and Shaun Harkin (People Before Profit), are expecting to build on that platform with a view to targeting future seats in the assembly.

The other runner is the Ulster Unionist candidate Darren Guy.

Image caption Brexit and the Stormont deadlock are the key concerns on the doorsteps

Foyle returned one of the highest remain votes in the EU referendum, with almost 80% of voters opting to stay in the European Union.

The campaign to bring a medical school to Ulster University's Magee campus is also a key concern for voters.

Some of the parties blame the lack of a Stormont Executive as the main stumbling block.

The battle in Foyle is expected to be one of the closest in Northern Ireland and it may well be decided by another political photo finish.

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