London and Dublin eye election result for NI political progress

Governments await result to weigh prospect of reinstating the Executive and Assembly

Alliance candidate for West Belfast Sorcha Eastwood casts her vote in the 2017 General Election, with her husband, Dale Shirlow, in tow. Photograph: PA

Alliance candidate for West Belfast Sorcha Eastwood casts her vote in the 2017 General Election, with her husband, Dale Shirlow, in tow. Photograph: PA

 

As counting continues to decide the identity of 18 Northern Ireland MPs to be elected to the House of Commons, Dublin and London were monitoring the results to determine if any prospect of reinstating the Northern Executive and Assembly existed.

One of the first tasks of the British and Irish governments after the results are completed will be to call new talks aimed at restoring devolution to the North.

Direct rule

The parties will have until the end of June to strike a deal. But if they fail to meet that deadline, Northern Secretary James Brokenshire must decide whether to allow time for more talks or to introduce direct rule from Westminster.

The DUP and Sinn Féin were hoping to increase their Westminster representation and their overall vote to strengthen their hands in those negotiations.

More than 1,200,000 voters are entitled to vote at almost 1,400 polling stations across the North. Polling began at 7am and stations close at 10pm.

This is the seventh time in three years that the North has gone to the polls.

Since 2014 there have been two Westminster elections, two Assembly elections, the in-out referendum on the European Union and a European and local government election.

Counting will start at seven centres in the North soon after the close of polls with results in the 18 single-seat constituencies due in from early on Friday morning.

There was a relatively high turnout of 65 per cent in the snap Assembly elections of March when a surge in the nationalist vote brought Sinn Féin within one seat and fewer than 1,200 votes of the DUP.

Sinn Féin is hoping to maintain that momentum. But indications on Thursday night are that polling is down on the March figure.

Heavy rain throughout most of Northern Ireland during much of the day is expected to contribute to more people staying home.

The Electoral Office of Northern Ireland said that turnout is “slow” in some areas while “steady” in others. But it is expected to pick up before the stations close.

Sinn Féin challenge

The leaders of the two main parties voted this morning. DUP leader Arlene Foster voted in Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh, which is in the Fermanagh South Tyrone constituency where the Ulster Unionist’s Tom Elliott was seeking to hold his seat against the challenge of Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew.

“Make sure you vote today to ensure NI has a strong team of MPs standing up for you. Wishing my DUP colleagues well,” tweeted Ms Foster.

Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill voted in her native Clonoe, Co Tyrone, which is in the Mid-Ulster constituency where the party’s Francie Molloy is expected to comfortably hold his seat.

Ms O’Neill expressed confidence that Sinn Féin would build on the successes of the March Assembly election.

“This is a chance for the electorate to come out and take a stand against Tory cuts and Brexit. The public are angry; they want to come out and take a stand,” she said.

The DUP and Sinn Féin are hoping to increase on the eight and four seats secured in 2015 election while the SDLP and Ulster Unionist Party are battling to hold the three and two seats respectively they won two years ago.

Alliance leader Naomi Long hopes she can regain the East Belfast seat lost to the DUP’s Gavin Robinson two years ago.