Sinn Fein is being tipped to comfortably top the poll in Northern Ireland’s European Election.
Turnout was officially confirmed last night at 42.81%, a dramatic fall of almost 9% on the 2004 Euro poll figure of 51.72%.
The count will not begin until Monday morning, but it is being privately admitted by all parties that Sinn Fein’s Bairbre de Brun will finish well ahead.
The DUP, which has topped all previous European polls in the province, is braced for a slump in its support. However, party sources last night predicted candidate Diane Dodds would still claim one of the three seats.
It has nevertheless lost a significant slice of its vote to Traditional Unionist Voice candidate Jim Allister, an outcome which could destabilise the Stormont power-sharing coalition.
Conservative-UUP candidate Jim Nicholson is said by party colleagues to have polled well, while the SDLP is also pleased with the level of support secured by Alban Maginness.
The speculation is based on unofficial tallies by party workers yesterday, during the checking of the ballot papers at the King’s Hall. It confirmed the turnout, which ranged from nearly 53% in Mid-Ulster to just 34% in Strangford.
The indications were that turnout was generally lower in unionist districts. UUP sources were very upbeat last night on the party’s performance, while the SDLP was also in a positive mood and insisting that Mr Maginness was “in the mix” for a seat.
The TUV was meanwhile privately delighted with Mr Allister’s showing, and not conceding its chances.
It is anticipated that Monday’s count may take some time before all three seats are filled. The turnout figures for each constituency were:
Commentator and policy analyst Robin Wilson said the turn out should surprise no one.
He said: “Electoral participation has been falling since the Belfast Agreement: 81% turned out for the post-agreement referendum, falling to 70% for the first assembly election and falling further to 63.5% for the latest in 2007.
“In 1998 the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey found that fewer than a third of respondents said they had ‘not very much’ interest in politics or ‘none at all’. By the time of the 2005 survey, however, more than half said they were ‘not very interested’ or ‘not at all interested’.
“Citizens energised by the hope the Agreement fostered have become progressively disillusioned by the failure of a political class dominated by sectarian and paramilitary figures to make the power-sharing institutions function most of the time, or even to show basic literacy on the ‘bread and butter’ policy issues when those institutions have been up and crawling.”