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People with a dog outside the polling station in Dromore, Co Down Brian Lawless/PA

Polling stations close across Northern Ireland in Stormont election with 54% turnout

The process will elect 90 MLAs to the devolved Stormont Assembly, with 239 candidates running.

LAST UPDATE | May 5th 2022, 10:00 PM

POLLING STATIONS HAVE closed following fresh elections to the Stormont Assembly.

The Electoral Office for Northern Ireland gave indicative turnout figures per constituency at 9pm on Thursday which averaged at around 54%, an hour before polling stations closed at 10pm.

They said the figure was based on the average of returns from polling stations.

The indicative turnout ranged from 60% in West Belfast to 47% in the South Antrim constituency.

The official final turnout figure will not be known until Friday morning. The turnout at the last Assembly election in 2017 was 64%.

The counting process will start at 8am on Friday to elect 90 MLAs to the devolved Assembly, with 239 candidates running.

Earlier, chief electoral officer Virginia McVey said: “We have a new system in place, so we are able to digitally monitor turnout.

The process is taking place to elect 90 MLAs to the devolved Stormont Assembly, with 239 candidates running.

Northern Ireland’s political leaders cast their ballots earlier today.

2.66714664 Sinn Féin’s Vice-President Michelle O’Neill arrives to cast her vote at the polling station at St Patrick’s Primary School in Clonoe. PA PA

Sinn Fein vice-president, Michelle O’Neill, filled out her ballot paper in St Patrick’s primary school in her home village of Clonoe, Co Tyrone, accompanied by party colleague, Linda Dillon.

She posed for photographs with some voters before leaving.

Thirty miles away, the DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, cast his vote at Dromore Central primary school in Co Down.

2.66714500 DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson leaving the polling station at Dromore Central Primary School in Dromore. PA PA

Unionist rival, Doug Beattie, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, voted at Seagoe primary school in Portadown, Co Armagh.

He said: “It’s polling day, I don’t think anybody really knows the outcome of this. Things change throughout the day.”

Naomi Long, leader of the cross-community Alliance Party, cast her ballot accompanied by husband, Michael, at St Colmcille’s parochial house in the east Belfast constituency where she was once the MP.

Colum Eastwood, leader of the SDLP, voted at the Model primary school in his home city of Derry accompanied by his wife, Rachael, and his children.

2.66714394 SDLP leader Colum Eastwood arrives to cast his vote with his family in the Foyle constituency in Derry. PA PA

He said: “The people are all powerful today and the people will cast their vote.”

Jim Allister, leader of the TUV, voted early in the morning at Kells and Connor primary school in Co Antrim.

2.66713453 TUV leader Jim Allister give a thumbs up as he arrives at Kells and Connor Primary School, Ballymena, Antrim, to cast his vote. PA PA

The DUP and Sinn Fein are vying for the top spot in the election, which comes with the entitlement to nominate the next first minister.

A unionist party has always been the biggest in the Assembly, and previously the Stormont Parliament, since the formation of the state in 1921.

While the office of the first and deputy first minister is an equal one with joint power, the allocation of the titles is regarded as symbolically important.

The Northern Ireland Protocol has cast a long shadow over the election campaign following the resignation of First Minister, Paul Givan, in February in an effort to force the UK government to act over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

This action left the Executive unable to fully function.

While ministers remained in post, they were restricted in the actions they could take.

Unionists object to the additional checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain as a border in the Irish Sea.

Five Assembly seats are up for grabs in 18 constituencies, with the overall number of MLAs returned 90.

A total of 239 candidates are running.

Northern Ireland uses the single transferable vote (STV) proportional representation electoral system.

Counting will start at three centres in Belfast, Jordanstown and Magherafelt tomorrow morning with the first results expected the same day.

The DUP won 28 seats at the last Assembly elections in 2017, just ahead of Sinn Fein which returned 27 MLAs.

Next was the SDLP with 12 seats, the Ulster Unionist Party with 10 seats, Alliance with eight seats, the Green Party with two seats while People Before Profit and the TUV had one MLA each.

This year, the DUP has been regarded as playing it safe, running 30 candidates, while Sinn Fein is running 34.

Meanwhile, the UUP is running 27 candidates, the Alliance Party is running 24, the SDLP is fielding 22, TUV is putting up 19 candidates, the Green Party is running 18 and People Before Profit 12, as is Aontu, while the Workers Party is running six candidates and the PUP three.

The Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and the Socialist Party are each fielding two candidates, while the Northern Ireland Conservatives, Cross Community Labour Alliance (CCLA), Resume NI and Heritage Party are each running one candidate.

There are 24 independent candidates. Polling stations closed at 10pm.

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