Belfast Telegraph

General Election Northern Ireland: Leaders make final pitch for votes

Northern Ireland's political leaders have delivered eve of poll messages as people prepare to vote in the 2017 General Election.

At the close of a low key campaign, run against the backdrop of the ongoing political crisis at Stormont, the main parties made a final pitch for support.

The campaign was dominated by issues around Brexit and its impact on the constitutional question. A loyalist murder in Bangor at the end of May also ensured the ongoing problem of paramilitarism generated debate among rival candidates.

Voters will cast their ballots at 1,380 polling stations located in 619 voting centres across the region, including one on the remote off shore island of Rathlin.

Democratic Unionist leader and former Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said every vote in every seat would matter

"This election is a clear choice between moving forward or going back," she said.

"The DUP seeks a mandate for the Union that really matters - the Union with Great Britain.

"A vote for the DUP is a vote for the Union. A vote for the DUP is a vote for real influence at Westminster and a vote for the DUP is a vote to secure the best deal for Northern Ireland as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

"Northern Ireland needs one strong unionist voice at Westminster and in the negotiations that follow. The DUP is that strong voice."

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said her party wanted to build on the gains it made in March's snap Assembly poll.

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"Tomorrow voters have the opportunity to take another step forward in building a new and united Ireland," she said.

"Together we can send a strong message to reject Theresa May's Tory cuts and Brexit agenda.

"Together we can secure the full implementation of the existing agreements and an Executive which delivers for all, that operates with integrity and respect.

"By voting Sinn Fein you can strengthen our hand in the coming negotiations to re-establish the Executive, to secure designated status for the North within the EU and promote progressive politics including an Irish Language Act and the right to marriage equality."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the election was the most significant for a generation.

"This is your opportunity to put your stamp on the future direction of the Union we cherish and the type of future you want for your children and grandchildren," he said.

"It will be decided at the ballot box. If you want to build a stronger, better Union for everyone based on respect; if you want the best possible deal for Northern Ireland in Brexit negotiations; and if you want to make sure that your voice is heard in Westminster, then vote Ulster Unionist."

He added: "As I have said many times before, I believe that no one has anything to fear from being part of the United Kingdom, but a lot to lose by leaving it. If you want to strengthen it, then you need to go out and vote for it. Don't wake up on Friday morning and think 'what if'."

Alliance Leader Naomi Long said her party had a chance to make history and return two MPs - in south and east Belfast.

"Many people have tried to make this election as orange vs green and engage in the politics of fear but people are increasingly turned off by that," she said.

"That's why only a few months ago voters came out in record numbers to back Alliance and why our positive message is receiving a fantastic response.

"If people vote Alliance, they will get representatives who will help change the direction of our politics and who will absolutely deliver for the entire community. People don't care about squabbling between parties but rather action on areas such as health, education and the economy."

Earlier in the week, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "This election is now a choice between a hard Brexit, a hard border and even harsher austerity or a different kind of government.

"The electoral math of the election is crystal clear. A vote for the DUP is a vote for Theresa May. A vote for Sinn Fein won't count at all.

"Northern Ireland's seats now matter more than ever. The only way to return a strong team of MPs who will take on the Tories is to vote for the SDLP."

Voters can find out more information by visiting yourvotematters.co.uk or by calling 0800 4320 712.

You can find your polling station by entering your post code here.

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