Northern Ireland

Is the NI election campaign running on empty?

Marathon graphic
Image caption The finishing line is in sight for the political parties - and voters

This election campaign has been something of a marathon - at six weeks.

Some say the momentum has been broken by an extended Easter break - and a Royal wedding. Some politicians privately admit to being tired out - but are the voters fatigued?

The DUP says voter apathy is sometimes more media invention than reality - and the party has closed the campaign saying it has the stamina to finish this race as the largest party.

This dash to keep the First Minister's post is at odds with Peter Robinson's campaign start which saw him stressing how important bread and butter issues will be in the campaign.

Standing by his party's poster on the theme of of unionist victory, the DUP leader was asked if his party would support the nomination of Martin McGuinness as First Minister if the party won the most seats.

His answer was a kind of Yes and No. "Well, I'm a democrat and our policies are very clear. We believe that if nationalists became a majority in Northern Ireland then they would have that right."

However, he added a "but".

This was that the policy negotiated and agreed by government at St Andrew's was that the party from the largest designation (ie the community with the most votes) should get the First Minister's job.

Mr Robinson claimed it was the government which breached this promise in the legislation by allowing the job to fall to the party with the most seats.

Anyway that seems to be the argument the DUP would mount if Sinn Fein did end up with the most seats. But the DUP is focussed on staying on top and not having to make that argument.

Most pundits have discounted Sinn Fein over-taking the DUP in terms of seats so it all appears academic just now.


Sinn Fein have steered clear of these poll-topping arguments, content to let the DUP do the running - and no doubt hoping to reap the benefits of a campaign focussed on the orange and green poll-topping argument.

One Sinn Fein candidate told me this has been the most relaxed campaign he has experienced. He claimed the template for this election - a DUP-Sinn Fein victory - was set weeks ago and has not really shifted.

The Sinn Fein leader, on his end of campaign tour of the Short Strand in East Belfast, said he had not heard Mr Robinson's remarks and seemed content to focus on his party's message.

Gerry Adams dismissed suggestions of voter fatigue after such a long campaign. "I don't see any sense at all of fatigue. Not at all," he said.

He urged voters to renew Sinn Fein's mandate and send a stronger than ever team to Stormont.

The Ulster Unionist party leader Tom Elliott has been repeating a message that Sinn Fein and the DUP represent a cosy carve-up that voters can ill afford.

He issued a statement claiming voters wanted change from what he said was stalemate at Stormont.

He declared: "Instead of voting for four more years of carve-up, shambles and expensive failure I urge voters to consider the real alternative and cast their vote for the Ulster Unionists."

The SDLP is holding its final press conference on the eve of polls on Wednesday. On Tuesday the party was focussing on obtaining a judicial review to challenge election rules that prohibit European voters from using their own identity cards to vote.

Sticking to the marathon theme, the SDLP did issue a photograph showing Conall McDevitt the south Belfast candidate and Foyle's Mark H Durkan racing in their shorts across the Stormont line.