Nominations yesterday closed for next month’s Assembly election, with 276 candidates putting themselves forward for 108 Stormont seats.
The most competitive constituencies are East Belfast, South Belfast, North Belfast and West Tyrone. In each of those areas there are 18 candidates contesting the six available seats.
By contrast, the least competitive constituencies are Mid Ulster, South Down and West Belfast – where in the last Assembly election Sinn Fein managed the extraordinary feat of returning five MLAs. In each of those areas, there are 12 candidates.
As well as the familiar major parties, there is a plethora of independents and single issue parties standing.
Among the more colourful smaller parties are the Animal Welfare Party, whose West Tyrone candidate, Laura McAnea, is registered to an address in south east London, and the Cannibis Is Safer Than Alcohol party.
Independent Susan-Anne White – whose controversial views on everything from homosexuality to rock music made UK-wide headlines in last year’s General Election – is again standing in West Tyrone, despite polling just 166 votes last year.
The large number of candidates in several seats means that the count in those areas is likely to stretch well into a second day.
First televised campaign debates
Tonight will see the first televised leaders’ debate of the campaign on UTV.
The broadcast from the Lyric Theatre will go out at 8pm.
Tomorrow will see an hour-long edition of The View on BBC One, with what the broadcaster has billed a deputy leaders debate with the ‘big five’ parties (although several parties do not have deputy leaders or their deputy leader is not a candidate).
The programme will be broadcast from Moyola Precision Engineering in Castledawson.
Next week, the programme will include an interview with deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the following week will see First Minister Arlene Foster interviewed.
Presenter Mark Carruthers said it was important to get “out of the studio and right into the heart of Northern Ireland”.
l South Belfast: Mencap Centre Newtownbreda, April 13, 7pm (Organised by Mencap/Children with Disabilities Strategic Alliance)
l East Belfast: Knock Presbyterian Church, April 14, 7.30pm, all parties invited
l Housing and Homelessness Hustings: Girdwood Community Hub, April 15, 2pm. (CIH, CHNI, Housing Rights and NIFHA)
l General Practice and Primary Care Hustings: Clayton Hotel (Ormeau Avenue, Belfast). April 21, 7pm. Aimed at current and prospective medical professionals. (The Royal College of GPs)
l South Belfast: City Church (University Avenue), April 19, 7.30pm. (Evangelical Alliance/CARE)
l North Down: First Holywood Presbyterian Church, April 21, 7.30pm. (EA/CARE)
l Environmental Hustings: Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, Oxford Island, April 22, 10am. (NI Environment Link)
l Lagan Valley: Lagan Valley Vineyard Church (Altona Business Park), April 26, 7.30pm. (EA/CARE)
l Foyle: Venue to be confirmed, April 28, 7.30pm. (EA/CARE)
l North Down: Kings Church Bangor (Seacliff Road), April 28, 7pm.