N. Ireland Politics

General election 2017: Eager electors look to have their say

A woman carries a ballot box Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The ballot boxes will be out again next month for the third time in just over a year

Whatever way you look at it, the general election campaign in Northern Ireland has got off to an uninspiring start.

So far there's been punctured talk of pacts, "blonde" bombshell bickering and a promotional "printing error", but little in the way of significant substance.

Maybe it's due to election fatigue on the part of both the prospective politicians and the public after a volley of votes in the past few years.

This year, of course, was scheduled to be election-free, but nothing generally goes to plan in the political business.

And there's still the chance of another Northern Ireland Assembly poll in the second half of 2017, should Stormont's summer talks stutter.

'Make a difference'

Back in March, a lunchtime trip to Belfast's Electoral Office on the final day of voter registration revealed a line of eager electors snaked all the way down the stairwell and out on to the street.

There was no queue when we visited on Monday - the final day for anyone hoping to register for the general election - but there was certainly a steady stream of people dropping off their forms.

Along with those updating their records with new addresses, for example, there were more than a few people putting their name down for the first time.

Among them was William Thompson. Too young to cast a ballot in March's assembly election, he said he was glad of the chance this time around.

"The vote in my area was very close last time, so I do think it'll make a difference where I live," said the 18-year-old.

Image caption A steady stream of people submitted voting registration forms on deadline day

"I can see some people's disillusion with voting - this is the third big vote in a year, with Brexit, the assembly and the general election."

William is doing his A-Levels and said the lack of an online service to register was a hindrance to him.

"I left this to the last moment because I didn't know where the Electoral Office was.

"It would be far simpler to do it online, rather than having to fill it in and come down and interrupt study leave."

'Sway the results'

Another student, originally from China, was registering for the first time after living in Northern Ireland for four years.

As she is a future junior doctor, healthcare and Brexit are her primary concerns.

"I saw a thing on Facebook about how young people don't really vote and if you do you can actually sway election results," she said.

"Politics is complicated - it can be really difficult to understand what's going on.

"If you don't know what's going on it's really hard to get interested."

'Forming own opinions'

Another man had recently returned home to Northern Ireland after a long spell of globe-trotting.

"I have never voted in any election, surprisingly, in all the years I've been eligible to vote," he explained.

"Whether I choose to in this election I'm as yet unsure - with regards to political processes and politicians, I don't put much faith in them."

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Is the electorate sick, sore and tired of voting after relentless recent runs to the polling booth?

And he wasn't the only returning traveller - one woman who was back in Belfast after time spent in the Middle East said she wanted to "have my say" for the first time.

"It's only in the aftermath of the Brexit vote that I've really been a lot more conscious and a lot more politically engaged," she said.

"I've been actively seeking out more and more information for myself and forming my own opinions, rather than just accepting what I'm being told."

But she's not up for a rerun of the Brexit referendum, as the Liberal Democrats suggest, even though she said last June's result was "disappointing".

"I think that you just have to leave it now - everyone will be going around the bend if we have to vote for anything else this year."

'Conceded you right'

One disillusioned man in his late-20s was submitting his form after not voting for the past four years.

He said: "I'm hoping there is a neutral party out there that is thinking 20, 30 years ahead as opposed to 20, 30 years behind."

And another had a message for those who chose not to exercise their democratic right at the ballot box.

"I feel there's more damage to be done by people not making their voices heard," he said.

"Sure what harm could it do to vote?

"There's no point crying about how: 'Oh, I don't like how this certain MP got elected.'

"Well, did you vote against them? If not, you probably conceded your right to complain."

Still time to register to vote

If you want to have your say on 8 June but you're not on the electoral register yet, you still have a little bit of time to sort that out.

Electoral Office buildings have closed for the day, but if you slip your registration form through the letterbox of one of the offices across Northern Ireland before midnight on Monday your name will be added to the list.

You can find more details on the Electoral Office website.

Image copyright PA

In case you missed it...

Elsewhere on the campaign trail on Monday...

BBC News NI's Campaign Catch-up will keep you across the general election trail with a daily dose of the main stories, the minor ones and the lighter moments in the run up to polling day on Thursday 8 June.

Hear more on BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra at 17:40 each weekday.