Maps by Conal Kelly and Nicholas WhyteFoyle
is one of the easiest constituencies to define. It consists of the entire City of Derry, nothing more and nothing less. As well as the built up area itself, this covers a number of nearby villages such as Claudy, Eglinton and New Buildings.
While Derry has undoubtedly boomed in recent years, it continues to lag behind much of the rest of Northern Ireland economically. Unemployment is more than half again the regional average, while benefits claims run at almost twice the rate they do in the rest of Northern Ireland. Despite this, and in contrast to poorer parts of Belfast, Derry's children do almost as well in school as the Northern Ireland average, and a roughly average proportion of the population have a degree.
In common with many other mainly Catholic areas, the demographic profile indicates a baby boom which has recently ended. The proportion of over-60s in the population is very low (14% as opposed to 18% across NI) and the proportion of under 16s is a higher than average (27% as against 24%). However, the fertility rate of 1.88 is only a little higher than the Northern Ireland average of 1.80. There is a huge population bulge among young adults, now looking to make homes of their own and driving the frenzied housebuilding occurring on either side of the Foyle Bridge.
Like any other city, Derry has extremes of wealth and poverty. The heart of the Cityside, including the Bogside, Creggan and Brandywell, continues to be one of the biggest concentrations of deprivation in Northern Ireland, rivalling even Inner Belfast. Some of the post-War public housing estates like Shantallow, Galliagh and Ballymagroarty are little better. The Waterside makes its own contribution to Derry's poor economic statistics, with all or parts of Gobnascale, Irish Street, Tullyally and Strathfoyle in the 20% most deprived areas in NI.
Local incomes are relatively low, and nowhere in Foyle makes it into the wealthiest 20% of Northern Ireland's areas. However, there are solidly bourgeois areas along the booming Culmore Road and parts of the Northland Road on the Cityside, around the outskirts of the Waterside, around Kilfennan and Altnagelvin, as well as at Eglinton and at Prehen.
The rural areas of Foyle constituency tend to have levels of deprivation slightly higher than the Northern Ireland average.
The big story in Derry's demographics is, of course, the relentless increase of the Catholic population, and equally relentless retreat of Protestants from the West Bank. By 2001, the census identified just 2494 people, or 4% of the population, on the West Bank as Protestant. This almost complete abandonment of the West Bank by Derry's Protestants is a process still occurring, perhaps best symbolised by the planned relocation of Foyle and Londonderry College to the Waterside.
The main areas that Protestants on the West Bank live are in the Fountain Estate in the City Centre, or on open farmland between the built up area and the border, with a small remnant remaining in the better areas on the Northland and Culmore Roads and around Magee College. The rural area of the constituency has also been affected by the same demographic bubble that affected the rest of the West (59% Catholic in 2001) as indeed has the Waterside (38%).
The Waterside's image outside Derry as a solidly Protestant bastion is given lie by the solidly Catholic Gobnascale/Top of the Hill areas, as well as a string of mixed residential suburbs around Altnagelvin.
Overall, Foyle is the second most Catholic constituency after West Belfast (75% Catholic, 23% Protestant).
So much for the social complexity - election results here have been determinedly predictable since the establishment of the Assembly in its current incarnation. In its first two terms, the SDLP held three seats, Sinn Féin two, and the DUP one. As the detailed figures from 2003 on Nicholas Whyte's site show
, none of these seats look remotely vulnerable. And in the elections of 2005, the same pattern of party support was confirmed. It is highly unlikely there will be any change in representation in Foyle.
The SDLP have been the dominant party in Foyle since the constituency was created. After a scare during the 2005 general election campaign, that position was confirmed when Mark Durkan was returned as MP with a hefty majority. Although the SDLP dropped to only two-and-a-half quotas in the last Assembly elections, in the City Council elections in 2005, they polled a healthy 41%, just shy of three quotas. In any case, they can expect a healthy transfer from both Eamonn McCann of the Socialist Environmental Alliance and from Unionists. In fact, the SDLP could probably afford to lag Sinn Féin by 1500-2000 votes and still win three seats, making up the deficit on transfers.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan will be elected on the first count, although given the UUP's collapse, he may lose his position at the head of the poll to the DUP. Mary Bradley sits near the top of the ballot paper, and with a long established base in Shantallow and the rapidly growing suburbs of the Culmore Road, did well last time with 3345 first preferences. Pat Ramsey lagged a little with 2826, his Bogside/Creggan base being on the wrong end of demographic and political changes, but did notably well out of the transfers on the elimination of the UUP candidate. It will be interesting to see if there is any electoral reaction to him being intimidated out of his home in the Bogside. Newcomer Helen Quigley has a reputation for competence but shares her political base in Northland with Durkan. Interestingly, the SDLP do not have a candidate with a Waterside base.
This is yet another SDLP ticket where someone is going to lose out from day one, which may make life 'interesting'.
Unless Sinn Féin have a miracle of an election, they are also running one candidate more than can win. Only Lynn Fleming has an established base in local politics, and as the only Nationalist candidate based in the Waterside may leach the odd vote from the SDLP east of the Foyle. However, one of these three candidates is effectively a sweeper and Fleming is clearly of least strategic importance to the Shinners. Ex-IRA lifer Raymond McCartney lost out to party colleague Mary Neilis by just 8.47 votes in 2003 and was appointed her replacement when she retired in May 2004. He seems to have taken on the role as Sinn Féin's main spokesperson in the City since Mitchell McLaughlin was shunted off to South Antrim. However, many say that Martina Anderson, part of the Brighton bombing team and now Sinn Féin's improbable Director of Unionist Engagement, is being groomed to take on Durkan at the next Westminster election.
Either way, both McCartney and Anderson strike me as being rather more important to the Republican project than Fleming, and one wonders whether SF strategists will do the sums and leave Fleming hanging?
All of those are only second order political questions. The one question of first importance in Nationalist Derry is how well Peggy O'Hara, mother of 'successful' INLA hunger striker Patsy, will do on an anti-policing ticket. Although O'Hara is obviously linked with the IRSP, she is running on an abstentionist ticket and has been given a free run by Republican SF. Just as in Belfast, and in contrast to rural areas, republican strongholds in Derry suffer high rates of crime, which adds a certain picquancy to the policing debate. And Derry has a smaller Republican base than those rural areas in the first place. I'd be surprised if there were many more than 1000 votes for O'Hara.
That other ageing revolutionary, Eamonn McCann, will attempt to build on his respectable showing of 0.4 Quotas in 2003 by having another run under the Socialist Environmental Alliance banner. His problem is that the SEA feels like a phenomenon that is ending rather than beginning. With O'Hara soaking up some of the true hard left vote, I'll stick my neck out and say his vote will be slightly down on 2003. Still, he polled 3.6%, or 1649 votes, in the General Election despite an obvious tactical squeeze and is still a factor in Derry politics.
On the Unionist side, things are even easier to call. It's hard to believe that the UUP nearly outpolled the DUP in Foyle in the 1996 Forum elections. In the 2005 City Council elections, the DUP outpolled the UUP by more than 4:1. Willie Hay will be elected on the first count, and such is the eclipse of the UUP in Foyle that he may even top the poll ahead of Durkan. The only thing that may thwart his ambitions is that Willie Frazer of FAIR is standing in Foyle (and in his native Newry & Armagh) as an anti-St. Andrew's candidate. The DUP are well organised in Derry and candidates who stand in more than one constituency run the danger of looking stupid. Especially when their home base is 90 miles away. My instinct is that Frazer will flop here.
So will the Ulster Unionist Party. Already on the rack here, they have had to import Peter Munce, a 25 year old from Castlerock down the coast. Without local connections he is sure to be crushed, but I presume this bright young man hopes that flying the flag this time will help him land a winnable seat next time.
It's also difficult to believe that Alliance once elected four councillors in Derry. Their vote has gone from poor to derisory in the new milennium, and Yvonne Boyle's candidacy is more about proving that Alliance can fight all 18 seats than anything else. The Greens' Adele Corry is presumably standing for similar reasons.
2003 vote - SDLP 36.1%/2.53Q, SF 32.4%/2.27Q, DUP 15.0%/1.05Q, UUP 8.1%/0.57Q, SEA 5.5%/0.39Q, Ind SDLP 2.3%/0.16Q, Alliance 0.6%/0.04Q.
Candidates - SDLP: Mary BRADLEY*, Mark DURKAN*, Helen QUIGLEY, Pat RAMSEY*. SF: Martina ANDERSON, Lynn FLEMING, Raymond McCARTNEY*. DUP: Willie HAY*. UUP: Peter MUNCE. Socialist Environmental Alliance: Eamonn McCANN. Alliance: Yvonne BOYLE. Green: Adele CORRY. Independents: William FRAZER, Peggy O'HARA. (*=Sitting MLA)Prediction: 3 SDLP, 2 SF, 1 DUP.