Northern voters see MEP elections as a way for their voices to be heard on Brexit
‘The closer people are to the Border, the more it means to them’
The Peace Bridge: a concrete example of how Derry has benefited from European Union membership. Photograph: Freya McClements
For a concrete example of how Derry has benefited from membership of the European Union, look no further than the Peace Bridge.
“Look at all the help we’ve had here from the EU,” says one pensioner. He points to the plaque commemorating the bridge’s opening; it is emblazoned with a European flag.
“In the likes of Derry, there’s far more money comes out of the EU for us than goes in. That’s why I’m voting for the Remain parties.
“I’m voting Sinn Féin 1, SDLP 2 and Alliance 3 – well, maybe Alliance 2 and the SDLP 3. I haven’t decided yet.”
“I still don’t know who I’m voting for,” says a mother pushing a buggy across the bridge. “I read all the leaflets and have a few in mind and then make up my mind when I go in, but it’ll definitely be Remain candidates – probably Martina Anderson [Sinn Féin] or Colum Eastwood [SDLP], and then Naomi Long [Alliance] third.”
“I’m normally a nationalist voter, but I do like Naomi Long,” says another man. “I’m also considering Martina Anderson and Colum Eastwood, though I’m not sure in what order.
“The people voted to Remain,” he says. “You want that reflected in the European Parliament.”
In the North, this is the election that was never supposed to happen. It is no surprise, therefore, that the vote is being framed – particularly by pro-Remain parties – as an opportunity for people to make their voices heard on Brexit.
“The closer people are to the Border, the more it means to them,” says BBC election number-cruncher Gerry Murray. “Nationalists in general are really fed up with the Brexiteers and the Tory government and this is a chance for them to vote in a way that will send a message to them.”
As voters go to the polls on Thursday, Martina Anderson is expected to be re-elected, so too is Diane Dodds of the DUP. The third seat, which had been held by Jim Nicholson of the UUP, “is up for grabs”, says Murray.
Between the SDLP, Alliance and Green Party voters “there is a quota.”
“If they transfer between themselves the third seat would go to either Colum Eastwood or Naomi Long.”
The Border issue means Murray expects a higher turnout west of the Bann, which will in turn favour Sinn Féin and the SDLP; what will be interesting, he says, is whether the pattern from the North’s council elections earlier this year is repeated.
“The SDLP harnessed a fairly young support base in the council elections, while the DUP and the UUP look like the men in grey suits.
“East of the Bann, Alliance did well at the expense of the unionist parties. There’s been a haemorrhaging of pro-union people who are disenchanted with the traditional unionist parties, and the suggestion that in the European elections you should vote for unionist candidates all down the tickets would suggest they haven’t learned the lesson of the council elections. That’s not going to turn on young Protestants to vote for them.”
Northern Ireland is a single constituency which will elect three MEPs from 11 candidates. The polls are open on Thursday from 7am until 10pm.
Counting will not begin until Monday morning because it is accepted practice in Northern Ireland that counting does not take place on a Sunday.
Results are expected on Monday.