Election day is here and from the doors at Stormont to pet pooches, there’s been plenty to talk about.
Here’s our polling day briefing:
In their inaugural Assembly election campaign, a fresh-faced candidate secures a seat and makes their way to Stormont next week full of enthusiasm and pride in a job well done, ready to take on the challenges facing their constituents. They pull into the car park and make their way up the steps, marvelling at the history of the grand, 90-year-old building. They go to enter the door, but there is a problem. It won't open and inside, there are no signs of life.
This is the scenario that could be facing MLAs next week, as workers at the Assembly have voted to take strike action. An all-day strike is planned for next Thursday, while members of the trade union Nipsa will only work contracted hours from May 13, in addition to a ban on overtime starting on the same date.
Nipsa said the action is being taken in a dispute over pay, with the union arguing that the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission's imposition of a 2% pay increase from August 1, 2021, does not address the dramatic increases in the cost-of-living.
“In all the literature for the Assembly elections, our political parties have spoken about the need to address the cost-of-living crisis,” Nipsa's Dooley Harte said. “However, they have agreed the imposition of an effective pay cut on NI Assembly staff.
“Couple this with a restrictive working from home policy that will force staff to attend Parliament Buildings when they would prefer to work from home, saving the cost of travelling to work, and members will have a further cost imposed for working for the Assembly.”
This means, depending on how this works out, after all the bluster from Sir Jeffrey Donaldson about his party not entering government until the Northern Ireland Protocol is sorted, we could have the bizarre situation where MLAs turn up for work but there is no one to let them in the doors.
There are many things you can expect on polling day. Pictures of cute dogs accompanying their owners to vote filling up your social media feed, hopeful candidates milling about donning rosettes, and journalists going to the wrong polling stations to cast their vote (in my defence, I was not directed to my usual station this time).
One thing you do not expect however, is a candidate bowing out of the race on the morning of polling day. But that’s what has happened in Mid Ulster with the sole candidate from a new party called Resume NI.
Posting on Facebook just after polls had opened, candidate Conor Rafferty broke the news of his withdrawal.
“Due to circumstances beyond my control I have been unable to mount a campaign in Mid Ulster for the NI Assembly election which begins later today, and therefore I withdraw,” he said.
“My name will still appear on the ballot as it's too late to get it taken off. If you're in Mid Ulster use your vote in any case and vote strategically.”
You can’t expect everything to go 100% smoothly on polling day. With 239 candidates running in 18 constituencies, more than 600 polling stations across NI and 1,345 polling boxes, there are always going to be one or two minor problems.
That’s apparently what has happened at the polling station at Sacred Heart Primary School in Belfast. One voter took to social media to say the rear gates of the school which many use, that are normally open, were shut today and voters were “turning away”.
“It’s a very long walk round to the front gate,” the observer added.
Must be a very long walk indeed.