Niall Fields – Chambré Intern (@Niall_Fields)
After enduring all of 2018 without an election, political nerds can breathe easy once more, as Northern Ireland goes back to the polls today. The Local Government elections will return 462 councillors across 11 council areas for a four-year term.
So far, it’s been like most elections here. You’ve doubtless already seen some unintentionally amusing election broadcasts, driven past terrible photos strapped to lampposts and maybe even endured some awkward doorstep conversations with canvassers.
The DUP are running the most candidates of any party with 172, but this represents a drop from 189 in 2014. The party has, as expected, been running on a platform of defending Brexit and the union – though, strictly speaking, neither of those issues are really within the purview of local government!
The UUP, meanwhile, have once again nominated 117 candidates – as they did in 2014.
They are gunning for key Alliance seats across Belfast and have ramped up the pressure in Ormiston and Lisnasharragh, with party leaflets attacking other parties for not voting against Sinn Féin. This is a marked change of tone from the more conciliatory days of Mike Nesbitt’s leadership – remember “vote Mike, get Colum”?
The keen-eyed politics junkie might also note the differing numbers of candidates being fielded by the two main nationalist parties.
Sinn Féin, running an extra 14 candidates this year with a total of 156, are hoping to win some new seats across key battlegrounds in Newry, Belfast and Tyrone. The SDLP, however, does not appear to be as optimistic about their chances, is running 31 candidates fewer than in 2014 and seems to be relying on a more defensive strategy.
Elsewhere, the Greens are fielding 12 more candidates than 2014, while the TUV, PUP and UKIP have all nominated fewer than last time. Peadar Tóibín’s new all-Ireland, anti-abortion party Aontú, running 16 candidates, will hope to hoover up older republican votes in the rural, border areas.
Turnout in 2014 barely passed 50%, and that was while we still had the privilege of a functioning Executive and was back in those halcyon days before the word ‘Brexit’ dominated our political lexicon. General disaffection with politics and politicians here points to the very real possibility that turnout is unlikely to improve.
But, on the other hand, the sun’s out, #dogsatpollingstations is already trending on twitter and there are some great candidates to choose from. So, make sure you get down to your polling station and use your vote!