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26/09/2021

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

Faughan DEA MAP

According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) the population of the Faughan District Electoral Area (DEA) is estimated at 18,757.

The area has a slightly higher proportion of children than other districts within the Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC) area and Northern Ireland as a whole.

Those under 16 make up 24% of the Faughan population-compared with rates of 22% and 21% for DCSDC and Northern Ireland respectively. The younger makeup of the DEA is reflected at the other end of the age spectrum where those aged 65 and over stands at just 11%.

This is worth noting because of the potential impact on voting figures in the district. Another factor worth remembering in relation to this is that the latest available figures, the 2011 Census, show that the largest category of households within the Faughan local area is that of two person households.

There were 2,040 households in Faughan DEA in 2011 making up 28% of all the homes in the area. Just 13%, or 960 of Faughan households contain five people or more.

Also, according to the last Census, 66% of the residents in Faughan were economically active-that is they were actively engaged in the labour market either by working or were seeking and ready to work.

And, of those who are in employment in the Faughan area, the profile of occupations is one which is similar to the council area as a whole. Thirty-six per cent of those employment are in managerial, professional or technical jobs compared to 32% across the Council area and 34% across Northern Ireland.

This DEA has five seats up for grabs on Council. This time around there are 10 candidates vying for position-one fewer than 2014 when UKIP entered the fray with an utterly forgettable attempt to get elected. Their candidate Geoff Cruickshank was eliminated at the first count with 185 votes or 2.93%.

This time around the candidates are: Rachel Ferguson (Alliance Party), Paul Fleming (Sinn Fein), Conor Heaney (Sinn Fein), Gus Hastings (SDLP), Paul Hughes (Independent), William Jamieson (UUP), Ryan McCready (DUP), Jim McKeever (SDLP), Brenda Stevenson (SDLP) and Graham Warke (DUP).

Of these ten candidates just four are outgoing councillors: These are Paul Fleming (SF), Gus Hastings (SDLP), Jim McKeever (SDLP) and Graham Warke (DUP).

New faces in this election are Sinn Fein's Conor Heaney, William Jamieson from the UUP and Ryan McCready of the DUP.

Five years ago, the eligible electorate in Faughan was 12,933. However, the Turnout was just under 50% (49.52%) or 6,404. Of those there were 86 votes spoiled meaning that valid votes amounted to 6,318. That meant there was a quota of 1,054 to get elected.

As would be expected in this DEA, the DUP dominated in 2014. Gary Middleton, now a MLA, topped the poll and was elected on the first count with 1,077 first preferences or 17.05% of the vote.

Mr Middleton was followed by Maurice Devenney of the DUP on the fourth count with 1,090 votes or 14.81% of the vote. In the interim, Mr Devenney served a brief period as a MLA before leaving the DUP and declaring as an Independent on Council. However, he is now back in the DUP fold, but this time will stand in the Sperrin DEA in the Strabane District.

Graham Warke replaced Gary Middleton on Council when the latter was elected to Stormont. Although, his new running mate Ryan McCready is a first time candidate, both men hail from strongly unionist areas and it is highly likely they will retain the DUP seats in Faughan.

Next elected in 2014 was Paul Fleming of Sinn Fein who got home on the fifth count on 1,195 votes (14.17%). Regarded as a safe pair of hands in electoral terms, Mr Fleming should be elected again.

Given that five years ago the Turnout in Faughan did not quite hit 50% and there's very little to suggest that it will increase this time around, this will automatically favour parties such as Sinn Fein and the DUP who have large enough electoral machines to get their voters into the polling stations.

After the first three seats were decided in 2014, it was then that the impact of the low turnout in this DEA kicked in.

The remaining two seats which went to the SDLP were awarded below the quota-Jim McKeever was elected on 985 votes or 7.80% and Gus Hastings came in on the ninth count on 952 or 7.79% of the vote.

The shock casualty last time around in Faughan, and perhaps of the entire election, was the SDLP's Brenda Stevenson who had just served a term as the last Mayor of the former Derry City Council. She was eliminated on the seventh count with 550 votes (7.76%).

Mrs Stevenson is running again this time and while there should be enough first preference votes and moderate unionist transfers for the SDLP to retain two seats here, it remains to be seen which of the three SDLP personalities will fill them.

Conversely, poor management of the SDLP vote transfer system could provide an opportunity for Sinn Fein to capitalise.

Their 'second' candidate Conor Heaney, may well automatically fair better than Michael Crossan who was Paul Fleming's running mate last time around and was eliminated on the fourth count in 2014 on 365 votes or 5.67%.

Other casualties in 2014 in Faughan were the Ulster Unionist Party's Ronnie McKeegan who held on until the ninth count before being eliminated with a credible 717 votes or 8.78%.

This time William Jamieson, a former Chair of the Foyle Unionist Association will contest the election in Faughan. Consolidating or slightly improving upon the 2014 vote will be regarded as a success for the local UUP, but winning a seat is not a distinct possibility.

The UUP support for Brexit may also prove be a pivotal factor in a community with a fair proportion of farmers.

Paul Hughes, a youth and community worker in Strathfoyle will again attempt to gain a seat as an Independent. He gained just under half the quota in 2014 with 501 first preferences-an impressive electoral feat for someone without a party machine behind him and one which theoretically kept him in the hunt until his elimination on the eighth count. However, the very apparent lack of transfers to him from elsewhere saw him finish on 586 votes or 7.93%.

The increasing trend towards independent politicians may see him fair slightly better this time, but in a more rural DEA that traditionally votes along nationalist or unionist lines it's difficult to see him getting across the line this time either.

The Alliance Party candidate in Faughan is Rachel Ferguson. In 2014, the party ran David Hawthorne in this DEA. He was eliminated at the third count on 345 votes (5.32%).

Alliance has traditionally faired pretty badly in electoral terms in this Council area. The perennial rejection of middle ground politics here is at the root of that. Therefore it's a safe assumption that Alliance will fair the same way at this election across the city and district.

Overall, the only semblance of unpredictability in the Faughan DEA may well be a change of personality within the SDLP representatives or the outside chance that Sinn Fein could at least get close to taking one of their seats. In terms of unionism, the DUP seats appear pretty safe bets.

CAPTION: A map of the Faughan District Electoral Area.

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