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Sinn Féin bidding to overtake DUP – The Irish Times


Counting will begin on Friday morning in Northern Ireland’s council elections.

The first ballot boxes are expected to be opened in the 11 count centres at about 8am, with counting expected to continue over two days.

A total of 452 councillors are due to be elected in 11 council areas.

Sinn Féin – which took 105 seats in the last council election in 2019 – is bidding to overtake the DUP, which went into the election with 122 seats, to become the largest party of local government in Northern Ireland.

Alliance – which was the fifth largest party, on 53 seats – is expected to see its “surge” in other elections replicated and to increase its tally of seats, potentially leapfrogging the UUP and SDLP to become the third largest party.

The ongoing political crisis which has left the North without a functioning Assembly or Executive for more than a year due to the DUP’s protest over post-Brexit trading arrangements has overshadowed a low-key election campaign.

Speaking on the eve of the election, the Sinn Féin vice president and the North’s first minister designate Michelle O’Neill told voters it was an opportunity to “send a clear signal that it is time to get the Assembly back up and running”, while the DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson appealed to voters to “strengthen our position as we seek to finish the job of restoring Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom”.

Voting was reported to be slow but steady on Thursday. Turnout in the last council election was just under 53 per cent.

Meanwhile a man in his 70s was arrested following a report of an assault at a polling station in Macosquin in Co Derry on Thursday afternoon.

Mr Donaldson said Dawn Huggins, a candidate in Causeway Coast and Glens, was handing out leaflets outside Macosquin Primary School when she had them torn from her hands.

“There was significant physical intimidation of our candidate,” the DUP leader said. “She was threatened, told to get out of the area.”

He said Ms Huggins was “very badly shaken up, very upset” and condemned “this type of intimidatory behaviour and bullying, both online and, in this case, physically in person” which women candidates have experienced.

“It is difficult to attract people to stand for public office and this kind of behaviour simply doesn’t help.”

More than 200 BBC journalists in Northern Ireland are due to strike for 24 hours on Friday over cuts to jobs and programmes in a move which is expected to severely affect its coverage of the election results.

Talks aimed at averting the strike failed on Thursday after the union said sufficient progress had not been made.

National Union of Journalists (NUJ) assistant secretary Seamus Dooley said the decision to strike “on such a significant news day has not been taken lightly and reflects frustration on the part of NUJ members.

“They want to report the news rather than make their own headlines,” he said, adding that it was “regrettable they find themselves in this situation.”

A BBC spokesperson said the corporation “deeply regret the negative impact strike action will have on BBC services on election results day.”

The spokesperson said the BBC was “glad to have been able to offer roles to all ‘at risk’ staff during the redundancy process.

“The BBC’s region-wide programming from Foyle has been increased and its net staffing levels will be maintained.

“Our engagement with staff and the trade unions will continue,” it said.

Additional reporting – PA

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