N. Ireland Politics

General election 2017: Are you suffering from electionitis?

Murals in an alleyway in Belfast
Image caption Anoraks had their brollies up as they gathered in Belfast for election chatter on a wet weeknight

A worrying new condition is sweeping across Northern Ireland and you could already have caught it.

It's called "electionitis" and the main symptoms are a feeling of fatigue from and boredom of political campaigns.

Next week's general election will mark the fourth time voters have gone to the polls in 13 months.

So, it's hardly a surprise that this election campaign has been a low-key one, with little to capture the imagination of the public.

In spite of that, we still managed to find political nerds discussing and debating at an event hosted by the political blog Slugger O'Toole in a Belfast bar on a damp weeknight.

According to Alan Meban from the website, there is still an appetite among the anoraks for election chatter, but even their patience is beginning to wear thin.

Image caption Pints and politics were the order of the evening at the Slugger O'Toole election punt

"There's quite a lot of people who are willing to turn up - you can get 100 people out on a wet night to talk about politics," he said.

"But somehow I do wish it would slow down the number of elections because it is getting quite tiring!"

People are "a little bit fatigued at electionitis", he said,

So, why has this campaign been so lacklustre, especially compared with the Northern Ireland Assembly election in March?

Political commentator Brendan Mulgrew describes it as "non-existent", and puts that down to a number of factors, including the suspension in campaigning last week in the wake of the Manchester bombing.

"In an assembly election, every vote counts because there are five seats per constituency and the fifth seat especially is up for grabs and the turnout is quite strong," said Brendan.

"But in a general election, we could probably call 12, 13, maybe even 14 of the seats and the motivation's not there to go out and vote like it was in March.

Image caption Brendan Mulgrew and Alan Meban admit they've been uninspired by the election campaign

"The assembly election also came off the back of [the] RHI [scandal], the sad death of Martin McGuinness and it was fought in a one-off context.

"A Westminster election coming out of the blue doesn't have the same context and people aren't fired up as much."

What can we expect next week in terms of a turnout then?

Alan believes that the assembly result in March will trigger a push to the polls from unionist voters in tight constituencies, but a dip in voting in those areas where the result of the contest is a foregone conclusion.

"There was quite a lot of talk tonight that the nationalist surge has perhaps created a grassroots unionism surge to counteract that," he said.

"The fact that the [unionist/nationalist] vote count got very close last time is perhaps scaring people to some extent.

"Fear in Northern Ireland politics tends to drive a turnout.

"It will be very interesting to see early on Friday morning how many people have come out."

An election veteran... already

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Colum Eastwood said this election is an "important" one ahead of a key couple of years

It seems it's not just the voters and political pundits who have almost had their fill of pottering to the polls.

Colum Eastwood has only been the leader of the SDLP for 18 months but he's already something of a veteran when it comes to taking his party into elections.

This is the fourth campaign - including last year's EU referendum - that he's faced since he defeated Alasdair McDonnell in a leadership contest in November 2015.

"Everybody is a bit fed up with elections and none more so than politicians and political activists," he said on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme.

"But it's an election nonetheless and we know that a lot of these issues - around tax, around welfare, around Brexit - are resolved at Westminster.

"This will be a very key couple of years and this will be an important election."

In case you missed it...

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Gemma Weir is one of two candidates standing for election for the Workers' Party

Elsewhere on the campaign trail on Friday...

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.

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