Ups and downs guaranteed in Faughan valley


The new Faughan District Electoral Area will make extremely interesting viewing come May 23.

Back in 2011, ten hopefuls vied for six seats in the roughly contiguous Derry City Council Rural area.

But this time eleven candidates will compete for just five seats, so it’s sudden death in Londonderry’s rural hinterland.

In recent years the two unionist seats here been nailed down by the DUP, whilst the SDLP has maintained three seats and since ousting the UUP in 2001, Paul Fleming has easily maintained a seat for Sinn Féin.

In contrast to the neighbouring Waterside area, Faughan is significantly smaller than previously.

The old Rural area comprised Banagher, Claudy, Eglinton, Enagh, Holly Mount and Newbuildings, and in 2011 held 16,892 electors.

Faughan comprises Claudy, Eglinton, Enagh, Newbuildings and Slievekirk and holds just 13,098 - a significant dip of 3,794.

The old Rural ward was often electorally volatile - the UUP gained from the DUP in 1997; Sinn Féin gained from the UUP in 2001; and the DUP gained from the UUP in 2005 - and whilst there was no change in 2011, one seat less guarantees drama this time.

In terms of the quota to get elected, looking at the last series of local elections, the percentage of valid votes cast versus total electorate has varied from 58 per cent in 1997, to 67 per cent in 2001, to 64 per cent in 2005 to 54 per cent in 2011.

If we take a median 59 per cent of the electorate casting valid votes this time the quota will be around 1,290.

There are still two seats here for the SDLP, one, at least, for the DUP and one for Sinn Féin.

There could be an intriguing tussle between the DUP, UUP, SDLP and Sinn Féin for the last seat.

UKIP Geoff Cruickshank

About: One of three UKIP candidates running in the local elections in Londonderry this year, Geoff Cruickshank is well-known in local band circles.

Shortly after his candidature in the Faughan area was announced he said he beleived UKIP could make a change, that the electorate were looking for change, and that he was running for UKIP because he cares about the community.

UKIP is testing the ground in the Faughan, formerly Rural area, for the first time.

It robustly rejects accusations that it is racist or sectarian. In its local election policy document it advocates a form of direct democracy whereby petitions would be used to prompt referenda on local government policy.

Chances: None. As a fringe unionist party - albeit something of an unknown quantity - UKIP aren’t likely to poll particularly strongly.

The fringe unionist constituency scarcely exists. The last time a non-mainstream unionist ran in the area was in 1997 and they received just 2.3 per cent of first preferences.

DUP Maurice Devenney

About: The senior DUP man on the Faughan ticket, Maurice Devenney, served as Mayor of Londonderry in 2011/12, and has considerable experience in local government having been first elected to the local authority in 2005.

The Newbuildings resident, who like his political mentor, William Hay, originally hails from the Donegal Ulster Scots heartland of the Laggan, recently put in a very respectable profile-boosting performance for the DUP in the Foyle parliamentary constituency during the Westminster elections of 2010.

After failing to get elected in this area in 1997 and not contesting in the area in 2001, he’s easily held the seat over the past two elections.

Chances: Cert. Will poll highly on the first count but not enough to top the poll. His transfers may prove crucial in a three or four way battle for the fifth seat.

Sinn Féin Paul Fleming

About: A brother of Lynn Fleming, with whom he served on Derry City Council for over a decade, Paul Fleming took Ernie Hamilton’s seat in 2001 and has held it ever since then.

A former IRA prisoner, Mr Fleming served as Mayor of Londonderry in 2009/10, and topped the poll in the Rural area last time out.

His running mate is newcomer Michael McCrossan, also from the Waterside area of Londonderry.

Chances: Cert. Likely to top poll. His transfers might put his party colleague, Mr McCrossan in the mix for the fifth seat.

SDLP Gus Hastings

About: A well-known figure in the Strathfoyle area, Gus Hastings, has this year acted as Chairperson of the Derry City Council Regional Services Committee.

He has also served as Secretary of the Strathfoyle Community Association.

He was elected to the Council for the Rural area alongside running mate, Brenda Stevenson, in 2011. Both will be joined by Jim McKeever, who is returning to the fray after withdrawing as a candidate the day before the nomination deadline closed in 2011.

Chances: It depends on the SDLP election strategy as well as the party’s overall performance. There are two definites and a maybe for the party in this area.

So does the returning veteran Jim McKeever lead the line, or will it be one of the relative arrivistes, Mr Hasting and Mrs Stevenson?

Alliance David Hawthorne

About: David Hawthorne has been running Brackfield organic farm in Killaloo since 1998.

A year before establishing this enterprise Mr Hawthorne had stood as an independent in the Rural area in the elections to Derry City Council in 1997.

This time Mr Hawthorne is running for Alliance. The agricultural innovation of an organic producer sits well with the Alliance Party’s policies, whilst the farming background can only be a bonus in such a rural constituency.

Chances: None. There is no unionist-lite constituency here. Mr Hawthorne will, however, improve on the 48 first preferences he polled in 1997.

Independent Paul Hughes

About: Paul Hughes has acted as a community and youth worker with the Enagh Youth Forum in Strathfoyle and Maydown for the past number of years.

He was active and vocal in the campaign against the proposal to situate a massive new seven-Council super-incinerator in Maydown.

Alongside colleagues at the Enagh Youth Forum he has also successfully lobbied for Derry City Council to carry out a health impact survey on industrialisation in the Strathfoyle and Culmore areas.

Chances: None. Independents don’t get elected here unless they are well-recognised disgruntled politicians from the bigger parties.

Sinn Féin Michael McCrossan

About: Michael McCrossan joined Sinn Féin when he was sixteen and has since been involved, largely, in its youth organisation.

He has travelled on international delegations to the European parliament in Brussels and also with an aid convoy to Gaza in Palestine.

Chances: May be able to force his way into a fight for fifth place courtesy of transfers from Paul Fleming.

UUP Ronnie McKeegan

About: Ronnie McKeegan is the UUP Foyle Constituency Chairman and has contested this constituency in the past.

He recently told the Sentinel he will be putting the needs of the people of the Faughan area, especially the Eglinton area, before the financial needs of the new Council.

He has also committed to bringing UUP support for the rebuilding of the Primary Schools in the area.

Chances: Mr MrKeegan polled 698 on the first count and ended up with 731 votes after transfers in the 2011 election in this same area.

But the way the transfers and exclusions fell he didn’t get a single unionist surplus vote. If the ball breaks more favourably for the UUP this year he could be in the mix for a fifth seat but it’ll be an uphill struggle with four unionist candidates contesting.

SDLP Jim McKeever

About: An SDLP veteran, Jim McKeever, returns to the fray having withdrawn his candidature just before the deadline for nominations in 2011.

Having unsuccessfully contested the seat alongside Maurice Devenney and Paul Fleming in 1997, he took a seat in 2001, and held it in 2005, before his leave of absence from 2011 onwards.

Chances: It depends the SDLP election strategy as well as the party’s overall performance. There are two definites and a maybe for the party. So does the returning veteran Jim McKeever lead the line, or will it be one of the arrivistes, Mr Hasting and Mrs Stevenson?

DUP Gary Middleton

About: The Newbuildings man was co-opted at the age of just 20 years to replace DUP veteran and current Speaker of the Assembly, Willie Hay, as Councillor for the Derry City Council Rural area back in 2010.

Since then he has retained the seat, polling under quota (1,219) on first preferences in 2011, but securing election following transfers from the SDLP, People Before Profit, the UUP and even Sinn Féin.

He will - like Martin Reilly in the Waterside - probably benefit from the heightened profile of a stint as Deputy Mayor during Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013.

Chances: After Paul Fleming, the SDLP’s main candidate and Maurice Devenney, Mr Middleton looks the most likely to take one of the two remaining seats. Following transfers last time out, Mr Middleton amassed a huge total, but it all depends on how the ball breaks.

SDLP Brenda Stevenson

About: The niece of former SDLP leader John Hume, Mrs Stevenson, to her credit, has stood and stands for local election under her married name.

That’s despite knowing even superficial association with one of Northern Ireland’s iconic former politicians would guarantee dozens of first preferences.

Originally, co-opted to Derry City Council in 2006 as a replacement for Liam Boyle, Mrs Stevenson, won election to the Rural area in 2011, polling 615 first preferences but amassing well-over quota by the end of the count.

Mrs Stevenson’s local patch most closely adheres to the former stomping ground of Derry City Councillor, Thomas Conway, who isn’t running this time but used to ratchet up impressive tallies for the SDLP here.

Chances: It depends on the SDLP election strategy as well as the party’s overall performance. There are two definites and a maybe for the party in this area.

So does the returning veteran Jim McKeever lead the line, or will it be one of the relative arrivistes, Mr Hasting and Mrs Stevenson?