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Rain fails to deter voters as turnout remains steady

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster avoided the rain as she voted near her home in Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh.

Voter turnout across Northern Ireland has been reportedly steady through General Election day despite inclement weather sweeping large parts of the region.

With two hours to go before the polls close, voters were continuing to brave the rain to cast their ballots. The poor conditions have placed a question mark over whether the relatively high turnout of 64.8% in March’s Assembly election will be replicated.

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster avoided the rain as she voted near her home in Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh, early this morning, while Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill marked her ballot paper close to her home village of Clonoe in Co Tyrone.

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(PA graphic)

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann voted in Kells, Co Antrim, with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance leader Naomi Long voting in Londonderry and Belfast respectively.

The 1,380 polling stations located in 619 voting centres across the region, including one on the remote off shore island of Rathlin, will remain open until 10pm.

The election is the seventh time voters have cast a ballot in Northern Ireland in three years.

Election fatigue has been one of the explanations offered for what was a low-key campaign in the region.

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Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill arrives at a polling station at St Patrick's primary school in Annaghmore, Clonoe (Liam McBurney/PA)

The poll comes just three months after the snap Assembly election triggered by the collapse of powersharing.

Since 2014, there has also been another general and Assembly election, a European election, a local government election and the EU referendum.

For many local politicians, the snap general election was an unwanted distraction from efforts to restore the Stormont institutions.

Floundering negotiations to re-establish a coalition government in Belfast, which were put on ice during the campaign, will resume once the dust settles on Thursday’s results.

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A voter leaving Brookeborough Primary School, Co Fermanagh, having cast a vote (Brian Lawless/PA)

The ongoing Assembly crisis blurred the lines between Stormont and Westminster issues on the campaign trail, with the blame game over the implosion of devolution spilling into the race for Westminster seats.

As in the rest of the UK, Brexit was a key campaign issue. While Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance all called for some form of special designated EU status for Northern Ireland after the UK exits, the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists steadfastly opposed anything that differentiated the region from Great Britain.

Since last June’s EU referendum, the Brexit debate in Northern Ireland has become increasingly intertwined with the constitutional question.

Nationalists and republicans claim the UK decision to leave the EU, in the face of a 56% remain vote in Northern Ireland, highlights the case for a united Ireland.

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Alliance leader Naomi Long and her husband Michael arriving at St Colmcilles Parish Church, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast to cast their votes (Brian Lawless/PA)

Unionists insist support for remaining in the EU cannot be interpreted as a swing in public opinion toward unification.

Those contrasting views were played out during the election, with the DUP urging voters to strengthen the Union and Sinn Fein encouraging supporters to add momentum to their campaign for a border poll.

A loyalist killing in Co Down at the end of May ensured the continued influence of paramilitaries in Northern Ireland became a key issue in the latter stages of the campaign.

The DUP was forced to distance itself from the endorsement of an umbrella group representing loyalist paramilitaries, while Sinn Fein defended the inclusion of convicted IRA bomber Sean Kelly on its canvas team in north Belfast.

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