Voters go to the polls today in an historic election aimed at ending decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. Nearly 250 candidates are standing across 18 constituencies. Analysts predict voting is likely to mirror the 2005 UK parliamentary elections. The Democratic Unionists polled most votes then, meaning their leader, the Reverend Ian Paisley, could be in line for the First Minister’s post.
“Well, I never prophesy election results but what I would say to you is that even our enemies say we are doing good,” he told reporters. “If they have already conceded that we are going to be the largest party, who am I to say anything?”
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams called for unity ahead of the ballot but made it clear that differences still remain.
“People know that this election is going to decide the political landscape here perhaps for the next five or ten years,” he said.
“In my very strong view, and all of our candidates, and we have candidates in every single constituency, are giving us that the popular view is that the institutions should be in place and that all of the politicians should be working together for the sake of the people of this part of the island of Ireland.”
The last Stormont Assembly collapsed in 2002. Allegations of a Republican spying ring led Unionists to refuse to share power with Sinn Fein.
If the shared executive voted for today is not agreed by March 26, the assembly will be dissolved. The deal’s brokers, Dublin and London, will revert to a shared arrangement agreed at the St. Andrews summit last year.