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Referendum: Turnout in Brexit poll high across Ulster as future in EU put to vote

Fine summer weather brings Northern Ireland's electorate out in their droves as public finally have their say after weeks of often fractious campaigning on Europe

By David Young

Turnout at the critical in-out EU referendum was high across Northern Ireland, with some stations reporting polling outcomes of more than 75%.

The yes or no vote could emerge as the highest since the Good Friday Agreement poll 18 years ago.

It now seems seem clear that the simplicity of a straightforward choice between Remain or Leave had galvanised voters, with Electoral Office sources saying late last night that they had a sense that the overall turnout in Northern Ireland would easily exceed the 54.2% reached in the NI Assembly elections earlier this year.

The record turnout for a referendum in the UK is 84.6% - for the Scottish independence vote in 2014.

The Good Friday agreement in 1998 delivered 81.1%, and in stark contrast there was only a 64.5% turnout for the EEC membership vote in 1975.

The fine summer weather here will have helped - in contrast to parts of southern England, which have been experiencing storms and downpours, with some polling stations having to be closed because of flooding.

Despite that, some areas of the UK recorded almost record turnout for the vote that has polarised the country for weeks and months.

Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, a leading supporter of Brexit, said her instinct was that Remain would win the vote. She added if the vote was indeed to remain, it would be because of "Project Fear succeeding". However, Mrs Villiers said that despite this, she was still "the right person to be the Northern Ireland Secretary".

"If Northern Ireland votes Remain, I think that doesn't affect my ability to do my job effectively as Secretary of State," she said.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage also appeared to be conceding that the Remain campaign had edged the fractious campaign..

First Minister Arlene Foster - whose DUP had called for a Leave vote - had been hoping for a high turnout in the historic referendum.

The DUP leader said it was important that those on both sides of the debate made their voices heard. "I understand there has been a good turnout in some of the areas where previously there hasn't been so far - so that's good to hear," she added.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, a Remain advocate, had also encouraged people to get out and vote.

"Come out and vote - it's not in Ireland's interests to do anything else," the former west Belfast MP said.

Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and Alliance Party campaigned for a Remain vote in the referendum, while the DUP, Traditional Unionist Voice and Ukip were among those advocating a Brexit.

The future of the Irish border was a key issue in the referendum campaign as it played out in Northern Ireland, with claim and counter-claim on whether a UK exit would see a return to a "harder" border with security and customs checkpoints.

Earlier this week, a Belfast Telegraph poll, conducted by Ipsos Mori, indicated the Remain camp was on course to take a majority of Northern Ireland referendum votes - but also that support for the Leave campaign was strengthening as polling day approached.

Mrs Villiers is one of the 84 MPs who signed a letter urging David Cameron to stay on as Prime Minister whichever way the result goes.

Lee Reynolds from the Northern Ireland Vote Leave campaign said he was feeling "good" but was also reluctant to predict the outcome.

He added: "I don't think you should count votes until they are counted."

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said on Twitter: "Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and Nigel Farage conceding early that #leave campaign has lost. If so I'll warmly welcome that."

Pundits also said that opinion in Northern Ireland was heavily in favour of remaining.

There was a count in each of our 18 parliamentary constituencies, with those separate outcomes being transmitted to the Belfast count centre and added together to give an overall Northern Ireland result.

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