Tensions high during Westminster election in Northern Ireland

As results are assessed, main parties turn their attention to reinstating Stormont

DUP leader Arlene Foster casts her general election vote in Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh. Election results from across the North are being counted overnight. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty

DUP leader Arlene Foster casts her general election vote in Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh. Election results from across the North are being counted overnight. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty

 

Political tensions were evident during general election voting in Northern Ireland as hundreds of thousands of people went to the polls to elect 18 MPs to Westminster.

Voting was busy throughout Thursday with some polling stations reporting “queues stretching out the doors” early in the day.

With a number of constituencies keenly fought, the Electoral Office of Northern Ireland reported that emotions were running high between personnel from the different parties.

In Foyle, where outgoing MP Elisha McCallion of Sinn Féin was challenged by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, electoral office staff reported tensions between the parties’ personation agents, who check the identities of voters.

In North Belfast, where DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds was trying to see off the challenge from Sinn Féin’s John Finucane, electoral staff had to take action at one polling station to remove a loyalist banner targeting Mr Finucane.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said posters were also erected close to a number of polling stations in South Antrim saying supporting Alliance was “a vote for a united Ireland” and for “killing unborn babies”. She said former leader David Ford and others removed the posters and reported the matter to the PSNI.

One of the posters that appeared near a polling station in South Antrim
One of the posters that appeared near a polling station in South Antrim

She said a banner was also erected in North Down on Wednesday night describing Alliance as being part of a “pan nationalist front”. This also was removed, she said.

Stormont talks

As the outcome of the Westminster general election is assessed and analysed, the British and Irish governments and the North’s main parties are turning their thoughts to the prospects of reinstating Stormont.

Northern Secretary Julian Smith has called talks to begin on Monday, with all five main parties insisting they are anxious to get the Northern Executive and Assembly restored.

A spokeswoman for the electoral office said polling stations around the North were busy throughout the day.

The interest in the election had already been demonstrated by the 51,273 additional voters on the electoral register compared to the Westminster poll of June 2017.

Two years ago there were 1,242,698 people on the register while this year there were 1,293,971 voters in Northern Ireland.

Ms Long expressed concern that while voting was busy during the day people who normally voted after work might instead be distracted by late night Thursday Christmas shopping. The indications on Thursday night, however, was that voting continued to be brisk.

Leaders vote

DUP leader Arlene Foster cast her vote in Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh in the Fermanagh South Tyrone constituency. As the DUP was not competing in the constituency, she voted for Ulster Unionist Party candidate Tom Elliott who was attempting to take the seat from Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew.

“I believe in unionists working together and I believe in representation,” said Ms Foster in a reference to Sinn Féin’s abstentionist policy from the House of Commons.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill voted in Clonoe in Co Tyrone, which is in the Mid-Ulster constituency where party colleague Francie Molloy was seeking re-election.

Ms O’Neill said she voted as a “proud Irish and European citizen” while adding that the election was an opportunity to vote against Brexit.

“The British government is undemocratically dragging the North out of the EU against our wishes,” she said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood was joined by his wife Rachael and their children Maya and Rosa as he voted for himself in Derry city. He said as well as Brexit people should vote to prompt the two main parties to get back into Stormont to address issues such as the health crisis. “Use this election to send a message to the DUP + Sinn Féin to get back into work and sort it out,” he tweeted.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood with his family after voting in Derry city. Photograph: SDLP/PA Wire
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood with his family after voting in Derry city. Photograph: SDLP/PA Wire

UUP leader Steve Aiken voted for himself at Upper Ballyboley primary school polling station in East Antrim where he was standing against the DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson. He was accompanied by his wife, Beth who, originally from Georgia in the US, recently became a British citizen. This was her first vote in a Westminster election.

Alliance leader Ms Long and her husband Michael voted in East Belfast where she was challenging the outgoing DUP MP Gavin Robinson.