Political leaders deliver eve of poll messages ahead of Assembly elections

·4-min read
(Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive)
(Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive)

Northern Ireland’s political leaders have been delivering eve of poll messages ahead of the Stormont Assembly elections.

Voters will go to the polls across 18 constituencies on Thursday to elect 90 MLAs.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson spent his final day canvassing in Belfast while Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill spent time in Mid Ulster.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

Opinion polls have suggested Sinn Fein is likely to top the poll, and the Alliance Party is tipped to have a surge in support.

If translated into results, expected to start being announced from Friday afternoon, it would be the first time a nationalist or republican party has finished top at Stormont and could nominate a first minister.

Sir Jeffrey described the election as “a choice between real action on issues that matter to people or a divisive border poll plan”.

He described the outcome of the election as “critical to the future of Northern Ireland”.

“Only a first preference vote for the DUP can stop SF’s divisive border poll plans. After voting 1 DUP, I ask pro-union voters to maximise the value of their votes by transferring to other pro-union candidates,” he said.

Ms O’Neill described a “moment in history” and one for “real change”.

She said she wants to become a first minister for all.

“On day one after this election Sinn Fein will be ready to form an executive and get down to business,” she said.

“Our MLAs will deliver right across the whole community, for everyone. Our focus will be on our common ground.

“On Thursday 5 May, you can elect a first minister for all by voting Sinn Fein.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood visited a number of constituencies on the final day of canvassing to support his candidates.

He is the only party leader who is not running for election on Thursday. He is currently the MP for Foyle.

Mr Eastwood described this election as an opportunity for voters to “seriously reflect on how government has worked over the past five years”.

People in every community can determine if Stormont has done enough to help them with soaring fuel, food and energy bills, to address the hospital waiting list crisis, to put them and their families first,” he said.

“My clear view is that Stormont hasn’t worked for too many communities and it’s time to elect political leaders who will put people first.

“This election isn’t about the protocol or the position that anyone holds at Stormont. None of that will heat a single home or get a single hospital patient the care they need.

“This election is about choosing political leaders who will be there for you and your family, who will work every day to transform our shared home. On Thursday, vote for the leaders who will always put people first.”

UUP leader Doug Beattie said his party is offering a “confident, positive, pro-union alternative that will work for everyone”.

“Walking away from Stormont won`t solve the problem. The protocol needs to be replaced with a solution that works for everyone so that we can focus on rebuilding the NHS, boosting economic recovery and tackling the rising cost of living. Politicians should not be abandoning their posts at this time,” he said.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said her party is strongly tipped to make a “seismic breakthrough, one that could change the way Stormont works”.

“History is there to be made on Thursday. But only your first preferences can ensure it,” she said.

Polling stations are set to open at 7am on Thursday, and remain open for voters to cast their ballots until 10pm.

Chief electoral officer Virginia McVea has advised voters to wear masks to prevent the potential spread of Covid-19.

“Please bring a mask. We’re trying to do everything that we can to provide as much protection. There will be some masks available but it would be great if you could put a mask into your pocket, and if you’re uncomfortable using the pencils in the polling booths, we will be cleaning them, but if you’re uncomfortable, bring your own pen or pencil,” she told the BBC.