SDLP leader Eastwood stung by SF in former heartland
Posted By: March 04, 2017
By Donna Deeney. Belfast Telegraph. Saturday, March 4, 2017
Once deemed the SDLP’s stronghold constituency, Foyle was firmly placed in the hands of Sinn Fein, who not only topped the poll, but saw both candidates safely home before teatime.
At the Foyle Arena count, the success of the Sinn Fein campaign was evident when Elisha McCallion was elected on the first count with an impressive 9,205 votes.
Her running mate, Raymond McCartney, didn’t have to wait too long to join her, and a jubilant roar went up from the declaration hall when he reached the quota of 7,437 with a surplus of 171.
Elisha McCallion had dedicated her campaign to former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who she replaced on the ballot paper for Foyle after he retired from frontline politics.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, she said: “We are absolutely ecstatic about the result but not entirely shocked.
“It was a great delight to me to come in first and to top the poll – it is certainly something that I am very, very proud (of). I said I was dedicating my campaign to Martin McGuinness whose seat I am filling. I wanted to do him proud, and I think we have done him proud. I will continue now in the legacy of Martin McGuinness.”
The success of Sinn Fein in Foyle stung the SDLP and party leader Colum Eastwood who, although re-elected, said: “There was only so much we could do – we maintained our two seats, our vote numbers across the North are up and our vote share is exactly where it was.
“Given the really difficult poisonous atmosphere that has been created in Northern Ireland, I think we did that in a very difficult space.
“The context didn’t suit us. Sinn Fein has had a fantastic election, there is no doubt about that.”
As the evening rumbled on, the writing was already on the wall as far as People Before Profit’s Eamonn McCann was concerned and he conceded that he was not going to take the fifth seat. He said: “It is a disappointing outcome – there is no question about that. It was a vote that polarized; it was very much an orange and green election. It makes it very difficult for us to fight.”
As the curtain fell in the Foyle Arena, the SDLP’s Mark H Durkan reached the quota after transfers – something of a gift for him on his birthday.
The battle for the fifth seat appeared to have almost certainly been won by the DUP’s Gary Middleton, very relieved to be the “voice of unionism” in Foyle.
He said: “Not reaching the quota doesn’t make you any less elected. I am relieved that we achieved what we set out to do and that was to secure the only Unionist seat in Foyle. A constituency such as this, with the demographics it has, Sinn Fein were always going to take two seats and SDLP takes two seats.
“We always felt it would be down to myself and Eamonn McCann and I don’t take any great pleasure in seeing any candidate lose their seat. I wish him well.”