Northern Ireland goes to polls again for European election

Voters go to the polls today in what could be one of the most significant European elections ever – even though the successful candidates may only be in post for a few weeks.

By Sam McBride
Thursday, 23rd May 2019, 8:00 am
Northern Irelands new MEPs may only spend a few weeks in the European Parliament
Northern Irelands new MEPs may only spend a few weeks in the European Parliament

Today’s election, brought on at short notice because of Theresa May’s failure to get her withdrawal deal through the Commons, is likely to be interpreted as a de facto second referendum on Brexit.

It is overwhelmingly likely to see the DUP’s Diane Dodds and Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson retain their seats.

However, with UUP veteran Jim Nicholson retiring, the third seat could go to any one of four candidates – the UUP’s Danny Kennedy, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Alliance leader Naomi Long or TUV leader Jim Allister.

Alliance and the SDLP have fought fervently pro-EU campaigns and argued both for the backstop and for a second EU referendum.

Mr Allister is the only one of the main candidates proposing a no-deal Brexit, while Mr Kennedy, although a remain voter, is arguing that the democratic result of the referendum must be respected.

Also standing are the Green Party leader Clare Bailey, who will be hoping to build on her party’s strong results in the council elections earlier this month, independent pro-EU candidate Jane Morrice, Ukip’s Robert Hill, the Conservatives’ Amandeep Singh Bhogal and the independent Neil McCann.

Voters can rank the candidates in order of their preference, from 1 to 11 – or for as many candidates as each voter wants to give a preference.

Polling stations will as usual be open from 7am until 10pm and any voter who arrives at the polling station before 10pm but is still waiting to vote will be able to do so even if after that time.

Polling cards are not necessary to vote but speed up the process. Photo ID is essential for every voter.

Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, said: “It has only been three weeks since voters in Northern Ireland were last at the polls but its important that they remember this essential information when they return to their polling station this week.

“In particular it’s important to remember that you should rank your candidates in order of preference by placing a ‘1’ next to your first choice candidate, a ‘2’ next to your second choice candidate and so on. You can vote for as few or as many candidates as you wish.”

Votes will not start to be counted until Monday because more European countries do not go to the polls until Sunday.

Votes will, however, be validated before then, something which did not happen in 2014 when the count stretched to two full days.

That process – which will happen with votes face-down – and the decision to increase the number of counters means that the count is likely to be completed on Monday although it is still possible that it could stretch into a second day.