Voters go to the polls in Northern Ireland today, Thursday, May 18, to elect eleven new local councils.
In what many consider to have been a lackluster campaign, political observers will be looking out to see if Sinn Féin can make any gains, with recent opinion polls showing the party sitting around the 30 percent mark, while the DUP will be hoping to shore up its base and reverse the slippage in the polls it experienced during last year’s Assembly poll, when it dropped to second place behind the republican party.
With the DUP’s boycott of Stormont continuing, many candidates are complaining about apathy on the doorsteps.
"There are an awful lot of people telling me they won’t be coming out to vote on May 18,” said UUP candidate Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston, who is campaigning for a seat in the Castle District Electoral Area (DEA) on Belfast City Council.
“People are switched off from politics due to the absence of a functioning government.”
She said people are talking about “one issue rather than what Council and councillors can actually do for people."
Other parties will be hoping that they will not be tarred with the same DUP brush.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “There is no point punishing the SDLP when the party you really want to punish is the DUP.”
He added: “We know this is a difficult context for us and we had an election last year where Michelle O’Neill was elected as First Minister, and the DUP starving her of that is absolutely wrong – but this is a council election.”
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has called for more cooperation between unionist voters, a sure sign that he knows his party is going to need transfers to help some candidates over the line.
“At this election we want to see pro-Union voters working together to ensure more unionist councillors are elected. If unionists want to see more unionist seats across the 11 Councils then they need to vote for it.”
Michelle O’Neill has been front and center of the Sinn Féin campaign, with the party pushing a positive message.
Party leader Mary-Lou McDonald said: “This is a time for hope, for positivity and for optimism. Real change is happening before our eyes. A generation moving forward to build a new, a better future for all. A new Ireland, a united Ireland delivering for every person, for every family, for every community.”
Counting begins on Friday morning with the first results known by early afternoon.
Counting will continue on Saturday by which it is hoped that all 462 councillors will be known.
One count to keep an eye on is Blackmountain in West Belfast. In 2019, Sinn Féin won a remarkable six out of the seven seats available.