Northern Ireland Assembly election: Voters go to polls

It's the second poll in less than a year and follows the collapse of power-sharing in January.

Observers predict a similar outcome to the May 2016 assembly elections, in which the Protestant, conservative and pro-British DUP won slightly more seats than the Catholic, socialist and Irish Republican Sinn Fein.

If post-election talks can not mend tensions between the former coalition partners then direct rule from London is on the cards.

Forty miles away, Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill filled out her ballot paper in St Patrick's primary school in her home village of Clonoe, Co Tyrone.

An alternative cross-community partnership of the Ulster Unionists and nationalist Social Democratic and Labour party (SDLP) is bidding to wrest control from the fractious former allies.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have fallen out over the unionist party's handling of a botched green energy scheme and a host of other issues.

Peter Robinson, the former Stormont first minister, has issued a last-minute message urging Northern Ireland's politicians to step back and avert a headlong rush towards the destruction of the devolved institutions.

Stormont will operate on a reduced basis of five MLAs per constituency with a total of 90 Assembly members being elected, down from 108 after a decision to cut back on political costs.

Nearly 230 candidates are running.

Long-simmering tensions boiled over in January when Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness quit, saying he could no longer work with First Minister Arlene Foster from the rival Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

When Foster's Sinn Fein deputy withdrew from the local administration, the U.K.'s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire was forced to announce a March 2 election.

If Sinn Fein and the DUP cannot resolve their differences after the vote, the assembly's executive could be suspended and the province fully governed from London.

In last June's referendum on European Union membership, Northern Ireland voted to remain in the bloc but was outvoted by an overall British majority of 52 per cent to leave.

"It would also help to "press for reset" to the original principles, precepts and constructs of the Good Friday Agreement because the previous deviations from the terms of that agreement mandated by the people of Ireland helped to cause the very problems of arrogance, lack of accountability and insensitivity to rights and equality which are now manifest so soon after all the "Fresh Start" hype".

  • Leroy Wright