05 Oct 2022

2019 Council Elections: A look at the Foyleside District Electoral Area

Foyleside DEA MAP

The Foyleside District Electoral Area (DEA) has a population of around 18,905 and is the third largest of the five DEA’s within the city boundaries.

Under 16's make up around 19% of the areas population compared with 22% in the Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC) area and 21% in Northern Ireland as a whole.

However, those aged between 16-24 stands at 18% in Foyleside and that’s five per cent  higher than the 13% in both the DCSDC area and  across Northern Ireland.

Those aged 65 and over in Foyleside account for 12% of the DEAs population in comparison to the Northern Ireland average of 15%.

There are approximately 7,000 households in Foyleside with the largest category being two person dwellings. The statistics, based on the 2011 Census, reveal that there are 2,000 (29%) households of this type in this area. There are 860 (12%) households that contain five or more people.

In terms of employment, 60% of the residents in Foyleside are economically active. This is a level that matches the average across the Council area but substantially lower than the Nothern Ireland rate of 67%. Thirty-five per cent are employed in managerial, professional or technical posts although just 9% have a skilled trade compared with the DCSDC area average of 13% and 14% across Northern Ireland.

A total of nine candidates are seeking five seats in Foyleside next month-the same number as in 2014, although there have been a few changes in the personalities since then.

The Foyleside candidates are: Sean Carr (Independent), Michael Cooper (Sinn Fein), Shauna Cusack (SDLP), John Doherty (Alliance Party), Mary Durkan (SDLP), Hayleigh Fleming (Sinn Fein), Shaun Harkin (People Before Profit Alliance), Eric McGinley (Sinn Fein) and Lilian Seenoi-Barr (SDLP).

Four of the nine runners are outgoing councillors: These are Sean Carr (Ind), Michael Cooper (SF), Shauna Cusack (SDLP) and Eric McGinley (SF).

At the 2014 election, the eligible electorate was 12,274. Turnout in Foyleside was 51.39%. A total of votes 6,539 were cast, however 171 votes were spoiled so the actual number of valid votes was 6,368. The quota to achieve election was set at 1,062.

Two candidates were elected on the first count in 2014. These were John Boyle (SDLP) on 1,132 first preference votes (17.78%) and Darren O’Reilly (Independent) on 1,091 first preferences (17.13%).

Two Sinn Fein candidates were elected next-Michael Cooper and Eric McGinley crossed the line on the fourth count on 1,154 (12.58%) and 1,124 (12.42%) respectively.

The final candidate to be elected was Shauna Cusack of the SDLP who was elected below the quota on 975 votes (11.62%).

Those eliminated in Foyleside in 2014 were Rory Farrell (SDLP) who left on the fifth count on 841 votes (11.67%). Sinn Fein’s Barney O’Hagan lost on the third count on 723 votes (11.01%).

The remaining two candidates, Sha Gillespie (People Before Profit Alliance) and Daniel Comer (Alliance Party) were both knocked out on the first count on 232 votes (3.64%) and 137 votes (2.15%) respectively.

A distinctive feature of the Foyleside DEA is that a relatively small list of candidates means that margins of victory are very tight. A matter of 41 votes separated first and second in 2014 and exactly 30 votes separated the two Sinn Fein candidates in third and fourth places.

And, although the SDLP's Shauna Cusack was elected below quota she was just 67 votes below the 1,062 target.

This was also reflected at the other end of the tally for those that lost out. Rory Farrell for example was a matter of 134 votes away from his SDLP colleague Shuana Cusack.

Transferred votes are of course a strong signal of success in proportional representation elections, but this is a DEA where the trends taken from 2014 suggest that first preference votes may well again be a major factor.

The SDLP are again running three candidates this time around. The sole party candidate from five years ago is Shauna Cusack with John Boyle and Rory Farrell contesting other DEA's on this occasion.

Having built a core following in the intervening years since 2014 the SDLP appear confident that she is a safe bet to return to the Guildhall.

Mary Durkan is a first time candidate for the SDLP but is following in the political footsteps of her brother Mark H Durkan MLA and uncle Mark Durkan the former MP for Foyle. However, Miss Durkan is well known in her own right and a capable political candidate that should poll strongly especially on her own doorstep.

The unknown quantity in the SDLP equation is Lilian Seenoi-Barr. Head of the North West  Migrants Forum she is a human rights advocate but also a first time entrant to electoral politics and still with a low profile in this regard.

By comparison, two of three Sinn Fein candidates are outgoing councillors. Michael Cooper and Eric McGinley have been joined on the ticket this time by newcomer Hayleigh Fleming. The voting base built by both of these councillors, as with all the candidates, may be dipped by an anticipated low turnout but should hold by more than enough to see both back across along the line.

Shaun Harkin, with a strong profile in trade union activism in the city is the candidate for People Before Profit Alliance. He should post a much more credible tally than the party's candidate in 2014. But again, it is hard to see him break the hold of both nationalist parties.

The unfortunate Alliance Party candidate can only hope to improve on the 137 votes accrued in 2014.

Without a doubt, the interesting variable in this DEA is the presence of Sean Carr on the ballot paper.

Having quit the SDLP  four years ago, the long time local politician redesignated as an Indepdendent and served out the remainder of the council term in The Moor DEA and as part of the four seat Independent bloc.

The departure from the political scene of outgoing Foyleside Independent councillor Darren O'Reilly cleared the path for Sean Carr to stand in Foyleside.

The assumption presumably is, that Mr Carr plans to capitalise on the large and impressive independent vote accrued by Darren O'Reilly in 2014. But, presumptions count for nothing at the ballot box and that scenario is not a given. Mr Carr despite his longevity in local politics is also running away from his traditional electoral hinterland in The Moor comprising largely of the Bogside, Brandywell and Creggan.

However, with the turnout likely to be low in a DEA where margins of victory and defeat are as said, demonstrably tight, if Mr Carr doesn't get elected himself the votes he gathers will doubtlessly detract from Sinn Fein's and SDLP attempts to end this election in Foyleside with three seats.

There again, the growing trend towards Independent candidates, the public dissatisfaction with mainstream parties and the groundwork completed by Darren O'Reilly could see Sean Carr over the line.

Overall, the fifth and final seat is a tough one to call but Foyleside DEA could well again result in two SDLP seats, two Sinn Fein seats and one Independent. Should the Independent vote totally evaporate, which is unlikely, a coin toss is as good as any method to predict whether Sinn Fein or the SDLP will bring home a third candidate here.

CAPTION: A map of the Foyleside District Electoral Area.

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