Belfast Telegraph

Brexit and devolution dominate eve-of-poll messages in Northern Ireland

Voters will head to the polls at 7am to decide on the region’s next 18 MPs.

Ballot boxes (Liam McBurney/PA)
Ballot boxes (Liam McBurney/PA)

By Rebecca Black, PA

Brexit and restoring devolution have dominated eve-of-poll messages from Northern Ireland’s political leaders.

More than a thousand polling stations across the region will open at 7am on Thursday to decide the next 18 MPs to represent the region in the House of Commons.

Arlene Foster urged voters to back her party’s candidates, emphasising that “every vote will count”.

She pledged her party will “get Northern Ireland moving again with a re-established Executive” as well as protect the region’s place in the UK and “protect against a border in the Irish Sea”.

Sinn Fein’s NI leader Michelle O’Neill said it was an opportunity for voters to “reject the toxic politics of Brexit and the DUP”.

“It is your opportunity to vote for a new, progressive and inclusive Ireland within the EU Vote for hope over fear, unity over division – Votail Sinn Fein,” she tweeted.

The Ulster Unionist Party tweeted its final message to voters, promising to “bin Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, defend our NHS, protect our planet and build a better future for NI”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who is running as a candidate in Foyle, described the General Election as an “opportunity to send MPs to Westminster who will vote against Brexit”, as well as sending a “message to the DUP and Sinn Fein that it’s time to get back to work”.

“We’re now strongly in the territory of a hung parliament where every vote will count in the fight to stop Brexit,” he said.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said the election will “decide our future relationship with Europe”.

She urged those who are angry and frustrated at the three-year collapse of Stormont, Brexit and the potential of a hard border after Brexit to vote for her party.

Wednesday saw final preparations made across Northern Ireland before voters head to the polls.

As the 102 candidates finished canvassing, election staff geared up for a day of voting followed by a night of counting at four count centres, after the polls close at 10pm.

Ballot boxes were checked at a storage facility on the outskirts of Belfast, before being loaded on to lorries for transport to polling stations across 18 constituencies.

Rathlin Island’s ballot boxes were taken by ferry on an earlier sailing than previously planned on Wednesday, due to weather conditions.

Some 1,293,971 eligible voters can cast their ballots in Northern Ireland.

However fewer people are using postal or proxy methods to vote, according to figures released by the Electoral Office of Northern Ireland.

A total of 16,969 people have received a postal vote, down from 23,687 in the general election in 2017.

Fewer proxy votes have also been arranged, down from 11,707 in 2017 to 8,820 this year.

The DUP are hoping to return with at least the ten MPs they won in 2017, to retain the influence they had in the last parliament.

However the party is expected to come under pressure in a handful of constituencies, including South Belfast and North Belfast, but hopes to make a gain in North Down, where the independent Lady Sylvia Hermon has stood down.

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Sinn Fein won seven seats at the last general election and hope to make gains on Thursday, singling out North Belfast for particular attention.

Meanwhile the smaller parties are hoping to make a return to the House of Commons.

The Ulster Unionist Party has set its sights on Fermanagh South Tyrone where its candidate Tom Elliott secured the backing of the other unionist parties to secure a free run against Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew, as well as on reclaiming South Antrim from the DUP.

The SDLP has particularly targeted Foyle where leader Mr Eastwood hopes to make up the 169 votes that his colleague Mark Durkan finished behind Elisha McCallion of Sinn Fein in 2017.

The party is also hopeful in South Belfast where Claire Hanna has the backing of Sinn Fein and the Green Party as a pro-Remain candidate against the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly.

Meanwhile the Alliance Party leader Naomi Long is running for her former seat in East Belfast, which she lost to the DUP’s Gavin Robinson in 2015, and the party is also pressing the DUP in North Down for Lady Hermon’s former seat.

Some 1,343 polling stations in 608 polling places across Northern Ireland will be open from 7am to 10pm.

PA

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