Election in Northern Ireland: Sinn Féin and the Alliance watch for the keys to Stormont’s power

Political leaders in Northern Ireland had a frantic day of last-minute canvassing ahead of the Stormont Assembly elections in the North today.

Others will go to the polls in 18 constituencies to elect 90 deputies.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson used his final day campaigning in Belfast, while Sinn Féin deputy chair Michelle O’Neill spent time in central Ulster.

Opinion polls suggest that Sinn Féin is likely to lead the poll, and the Alliance party is likely to enjoy increased support.

If it results in results – which are expected to be released from tomorrow afternoon – it would be the first time a Nationalist or Republican party has finished first in Stormont and could nominate a prime minister.

Mr Donaldson described the election as ‘a choice between real action on issues that matter to people or a divisive border ballot plan’.

He described the outcome of the election as “critical for the future of Northern Ireland”.

“Only a first preference vote for the DUP can stop the border ballot plans that divide Sinn Féin. After voting No 1 DUP, I call on pro-union voters to maximize the value of their votes by shifting them to other pro-union candidates,” he said.

Ms O’Neill described the election as a “historic moment” and “real change”.

She said she wanted to become prime minister for all.

“On the first day after this election, Sinn Féin will be ready to form an executive and get to work,” she said.

“Our deputies will act in the whole community, for everyone. We will focus on our common ground.

“On Thursday May 5, you can elect a Prime Minister for all by voting Sinn Féin.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood traveled to a number of constituencies on the final day of the canvass to support his candidates. He is the only party leader not standing for election today. He is currently MP for Foyle.

Mr Eastwood described the election as an opportunity for voters to “reflect seriously on the way government has operated over the past five years”.

“People in every community can determine if Stormont has done enough to help them deal with skyrocketing fuel, food and energy bills, to deal with the crisis of hospital waiting lists, to put them and their families first,” he said.

“My clear view is that Stormont hasn’t worked for too many communities, and it’s time to elect political leaders who will put people first.

“This election is not about protocol (Northern Ireland’s Brexit) or whoever’s position at Stormont. None of this will heat a single home or get a single hospital patient the care they need.

“This election is about choosing political leaders who will be there for you and your family, who will work every day to transform our common home.

“Thursday, vote for the leaders who will always put people first.”

UUP leader Doug Beattie said his party offered a “confident, positive and pro-union alternative that will work for everyone”.

“Moving away from Stormont will not solve the problem. The protocol needs to be replaced with a solution that works for everyone so we can focus on rebuilding the NHS, reviving the economy and tackling the rising cost of living,” he said.

“Politicians should not abandon their posts at this time.”

Alliance party leader Naomi Long said her party was strongly tipped to make a “seismic breakthrough, which could change the way Stormont works”.

“History is here to be made on Thursday. But only your first preferences can guarantee that,” she said.

Polling stations are due to open at 7 a.m. today and will remain open for voters to vote until 10 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea has advised voters to wear masks to prevent the potential spread of Covid-19. “Please bring a mask. We try to do everything we can to provide as much protection. There will be masks available, but it would be great if you could put a mask in your pocket, and if you’re not at comfortable with pencils in the voting booths, we will clean them, but if you are not comfortable bring your own pen or pencil,” she told the BBC.