Northern Ireland Assembly election: Voters go to polls

Its former coalition partner, Sinn Fein, is defending a 24% vote share with 34 candidates, five fewer than last time.

The possibility of a return to checkpoints has revived memories of "The Troubles", three decades of strife in Northern Ireland over British control of the province, in which more than 3,500 people were killed.

With the prospect of a hard land Border dividing the island of Ireland, the Sinn Féin president said the Stormont Assembly poll was a mandate for Northern Ireland to receive special designated status within the European Union.

Sinn Féin had called for Arlene Foster to quit as First Minister over her involvement in a botched energy scheme she oversaw while Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, which has been hit with serious allegations of corruption.

Most likely, this election will result in the same electoral outcome: a win for the DUP, followed by Sinn Fein. The TUV a year ago lost support in the area, down 0.3% on 2011 to bring home 4.6% of the final turn-out.

Tensions boiled over in January between the two parties in the power-sharing executive, collapsing the administration in the semi-autonomous British province. However, the scheme appears to have been badly mismanaged and in fact paid companies money to burn fuel pointlessly.

Foster denies any wrongdoing refused to stand aside during an investigation.

Official turnout figures in North Down, Strangford, North Antrim, South Antrim, East Belfast, West Belfast, South Belfast, Mid Ulster, West Tyrone, and East Derry-Londonderry all show a jump in turnout compared to the same election in May 2016 of a 10 per cent average.

During a televised debate on Tuesday, Michelle O'Neill, who replaced Mr McGuinness as the head of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland said the DUP's pro-Brexit view was "absolutely disgusting".

The Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party secured two seats in early counts, and is expected to be the second-largest party.

The DUP appears to have suffered palpable but not excessive losses at the polls after public outcry over the "cash for ash" scandal, with candidates seeing considerable vote drops but still meeting quotas and managing to be elected in key areas.

Once the final count is declared, a period of intense negotiations will begin to determine whether the DUP and Sinn Fein will agree to return to power-sharing or if direct rule now must be imposed, resulting in Westminster running Northern Ireland directly from London over an indefinite period.

  • Rogelio Becker