Counting begins in Northern Ireland assembly election

Counting begins in Northern Ireland assembly election

Polling staff begin counting at the Foyle Arena in LondonderryImage copyright
Una Kelly

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Polling staff begin counting at the Foyle Arena in Londonderry

Counting is under way in Northern Ireland’s assembly election.

Thursday marked the second time the electorate went to the polls to choose a government in the space of 10 months.

The snap election was called after the resignation of former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness over a botched heating scheme debacle.

Official turnout figures won’t be clear until later, but all the indications are that voting was brisk – well up on the 55% who voted in May last year.

A total of 1,254,709 people were eligible to vote for 228 candidates competing for 90 seats in 18 constituencies.

The first declarations are expected around lunchtime on Friday, with the final make-up of the new 90-seat Assembly unlikely to be clear until Saturday afternoon.

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Polling staff waiting for counting to get under way on Friday morning

Polling stations closed at 22:00 GMT on Thursday and ballot boxes were moved to eight counting centres across Northern Ireland.

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Press Eye

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Counting underway in Bangor, County Down

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Indications suggest turnout was well up on the 55% from last May’s assembly election

Before counting begins in earnest, votes have to be verified – essentially checking the numbers in the boxes match the number of ballot papers given out.


Analysis: BBC News NI Political Editor Mark Devenport

Notices posted up at the entrance to polling stations an hour before the close of polls showed nearly 80% turnout in the Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’ Neill’s home patch in Mid Ulster and more than 75% in the DUP leader Arlene Foster’s district of Fermanagh South Tyrone.

Other areas were lower, but often in the high 50 or 60% range.

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Press Eye

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Ballot boxes being emptied by staff at the Lagan Valley Leisureplex in Lisburn

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Stephen Hamilton

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The Mid-Ulster count gets underway in Ballymena

By the weekend we should have 90 new MLAs, but before then there will be lots of drama as political careers hang in the balance.

And as soon as the dust settles the Northern Ireland Office will want the politicians to focus on urgent negotiations to try to chart a way forward.


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PACEMAKER

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Some dressed up as crocodiles on polling day, in reference to Arlene Foster’s remark likening Sinn Féin to the reptile

The snap election was called after the collapse of a coalition led by Arlene Foster’s DUP and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness.

Mr McGuinness resigned over Mrs Foster’s refusal to step aside as first minister pending an inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, which could cost the Northern Ireland tax payer £490m.

Under Northern Ireland’s power-sharing agreement, the government must be run by Irish nationalists and unionists together.

This assembly election saw one significant change: The number of assembly members has been reduced from 108 to 90 which will mean each constituency returning five MLAs each and not six as was the case beforehand.

The number of MLAs has been cut in order to reduce the cost of politics.

Forty-eight fewer candidates stood in this election than in May last year.

Media captionHow does the electoral system to elect MLAs work in Northern Ireland?

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly said the higher turnout was significant.

“That shows that people are engaged, that they see this election as important,” he told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

“There were many punters who thought a lot of people would stay at home, but clearly people thought this was an important election and they had to come out.”

The SDLP’s South Belfast candidate Claire Hanna said there had been more energy around polling stations, despite “awful” weather later on Thursday.

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Press Eye

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Counting in Omagh Leisure Complex

“That does, historically, tend to favour the centre ground,” she said.

“There was at least a whiff of change in the air yesterday… If the centre ground starts strengthening again it will give people a bit of hope.”

Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly use a form of proportional representation called the Single Transferable Vote (STV), in which voters rank candidates by numerical preference.

Candidates are then elected according to the share of the vote they receive.

The BBC News NI website will carry the latest election results and analysis on Friday and throughout the weekend.

There will also be special election programmes running on BBC Radio Ulster from midday, on BBC Radio Foyle from 15:00 GMT and on BBC One Northern Ireland at 13:30 GMT.

Counting begins in Northern Ireland assembly election}

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