Belfast Telegraph

Local Election 2019

Party officials outnumber voters in slow day at polls in Northern Ireland

Cloud of apathy hangs over election

Voters at the polling station at Newtownbreda Baptist Church in south Belfast
Voters at the polling station at Newtownbreda Baptist Church in south Belfast
DUP leader Arlene Foster in Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh
Alliance leader Naomi Long and husband Michael in east Belfast
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and Francie Molloy
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Read any newspaper over the last few days, watch the news on TV or cast your eyes upwards as your dog sniffs around a lamp-post on the evening walk and you can't fail to have noticed yesterday was local government election day.

We've been bombarded by messages from our political parties.

"Your vote can make the difference."

"You deserve better."

"Change is possible."

All fine words. But are they continuing to fall on deaf ears?

We will be bringing you live results from every count centre - Visit our Election hub - and check out the results as they come in from each council - Antrim and Newtownabbey --- Ards and North Down --- Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon --- Belfast --- Causeway Coast and Glens --- Derry and Strabane --- Fermanagh and Omagh --- Lisburn and Castlereagh --- Mid and East Antrim --- Mid Ulster --- Newry, Mourne and Down

Thursday lunchtime. Surely a reasonable time to find a steady stream of constituents at the polling stations? Polling stations are usually located in primary schools where, at that time, children would be playing, perhaps that old favourite, hide and seek.

There were no schoolchildren out yesterday, but, in their absence, voters in Belfast who should be there instead had certainly got the hang of hiding. Very quickly it turns into a game of spot the voter.

At West Kirk Presbyterian Church on the Shankill Road, there are more election workers for the DUP and PUP than people walking past to cast their votes. "It's quiet," one observes. "Very slow".

In a 15-minute period between 2pm and 2.15pm, only one lady strolls into the polling station.

"We have over 750 names on the register here. We've had around 95 in so far. That's it," I'm told.

There are, of course, expectations that the trade in the vote business will pick up later in the evening when the working day ends, but things haven't got off to a promising start.

Over to Cliftonville Road, where the local primary school is closed for the day to serve as a polling station.

Sinn Fein representatives are on the gate and again there are more of them than voters making their way along the laneway. For 10 minutes not one person walks past.

I'm about to give up when a lady finally ambles by.

"I vote every time," she says. "I don't know how many people come out, but they should all be made to.

"I was brought up in a home where my mum and dad always voted. It's right to have a say."

One or two more move past as we talk.

"I'm here because the DUP say 'no' to everything. I want to speak up for myself," one man tells me.

For now he's a lone voice in the wilderness.

As yet, there's no sign of the other main political parties. The UUP, the Alliance Party or the SDLP likely feel their resources are better deployed in other areas of the city.

Maybe change is as possible, as some might say, but for now, on the streets of Belfast at least, it's the politics of red, white and blue and green, white and gold that continue to dominate. Everyone else is still squeezed to the margins.

At Edenbrooke Primary School off the Crumlin Road, which has a catchment electorate of over 3,000 voters for both the Oldpark and Court wards, you wouldn't say the flow was steady - to call it a trickle would be pushing it.

"I have the right to vote and I want to use it," says one man. "I don't agree with much our politicians say, but if I don't vote I can't complain."

That says a lot. Voting so he has a right to complain.

It's a sad indictment on our country that it's got itself into such a sorry state that voters just don't seem to care.

Perhaps if our politicians were seen to do something meaningful, that spark of enthusiasm would reignite.

In the meantime, the cure for election hangover is that old traditional hair-o-the-dog. A bit of the same to ease the pain - European Parliament elections are just around the corner, on Thursday, May 23.

That may be more interesting to voters as the Brexit card comes back into play and some of our political big-hitters are on the canvass trail, but you suspect an overbearing sense of apathy will prevail again and the only excitement will be amongst our schoolchildren, who will be getting another day off lessons.

The Electoral Office described voting yesterday as "steady". Turnout reports from polling stations at 5pm yesterday ranged from a low of 15% in east Belfast to as high as 36% in one venue in the north of the city. The final turnout in the last council elections, in 2014, was just over 51%.

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