Northern Ireland assembly vote underway

Northern Ireland headed to the polls on Wednesday to vote in the assembly elections.

The poll comes ahead the March 26th deadline to form a power sharing executive, with Northern Ireland facing the choice between the return of devolved government or indefinite direct rule from Westminster.

Nearly 250 candidates are standing for 108 positions. The DUP go into the polls as the largest party, fielding 46 candidates. There are also 38 Ulster Unionist candidates, 37 Sinn Fein, 35 SDLP, 18 Alliance and 13 UKUP candidates.

The Make Politicians History Party is also standing, but fielding the same candidate in four Belfast constituencies. There are three Progressive Unionist Party candidates and two for the Socialist Party.

There are a further 26 independent candidates, including six Republican Sinn Fein candidates, who are not registered as a political party.

Turnout is forecast to be around 61 per cent.

The DUP is expected to emerge as the dominant party, followed by Sinn Fein. Power sharing would likely see the DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness as first and deputy first ministers.

Britain is threatening to permanently dissolve the assembly if it cannot agree on a power sharing executive by March 26th.

The latest attempt at a power sharing arrangement collapsed five years and Northern Ireland has been under direct rule from Westminster since.

Today’s elections must lead to devolution, the Liberal Democrats have urged. Following Sinn Fein’s declared support for policing and the rule of law, Lib Dem Northern Ireland spokesman Lembit Opik has called on the DUP to “keep their side of the bargain” and enter into a power sharing government.

He said: “I warmly welcome the leap in support for the Alliance party. This shows more and more people in Northern Ireland are turning their backs on old-fashioned divisive sectarian politics.”