North's voters go to polling stations for 7th time in 3 years

Polling is underway in the North as the British general election gets underway. It is the seventh time in three years voters in the North have cast a ballot.

North's voters go to polling stations for 7th time in 3 years

Update 3pm: Political leaders in the North have cast their ballots in the British General Election.

DUP leader Arlene Foster voted near her home today in Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh and later tweeted:

"Make sure you vote today to ensure NI has a strong team of MP's standing for you," she said.

Sinn Féin's leader Michelle O'Brien said she was confident Sinn Féin could build on the momentum of its successful Assembly election in March and stated this was a chance to stand against Tory cuts and Brexit.

"The public are angry. They want to come out and take a stand," she said.

Earlier:Polling is underway in the North as the British general election gets underway. It is the seventh time in three years voters in the North have cast a ballot.

Election fatigue has been one of the explanations offered for what was a low-key campaign in the North.

The poll comes just three months after a snap Assembly election triggered by the collapse of powersharing.

In the past three years, there has also been another general and Assembly election, a European election, a local government election and the EU referendum.

For many local politicians, the snap general election was an unwanted distraction from efforts to restore the Stormont institutions.

Floundering negotiations to re-establish a coalition government in Belfast, which were put on ice during the campaign, will resume once the dust settles on today's results.

The ongoing Assembly crisis blurred the lines between Stormont and Westminster issues on the campaign trail, with the blame game over the implosion of devolution spilling into the race for Westminster seats.

Brexit was a key campaign issue. While Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance all called for some form of special designated EU status for the North after the UK exits, the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists oppose anything that differentiates the North from Great Britain.

Since last June's EU referendum, the Brexit debate in the North has become increasingly intertwined with the constitutional question. Nationalists and republicans claim the UK decision to leave the EU, in the face of a 56% remain vote in theNorth, highlights the case for a united Ireland.

Unionists insist support for remaining in the EU cannot be interpreted as a swing in public opinion toward unification.

Those contrasting views were played out during the election, with the DUP urging voters to strengthen the Union and Sinn Féin encouraging supporters to add momentum to their campaign for a border poll.

A loyalist killing in Co Down at the end of May ensured the continued influence of paramilitaries in the North became a key issue in the latter stages of the campaign.

The DUP was forced to distance itself from the endorsement of an umbrella group representing loyalist paramilitaries, while Sinn Féin defended the inclusion of convicted IRA bomber Sean Kelly on its canvas team in north Belfast.

In the 2015 general election, the DUP won eight seats, Sinn Féin four, the SDLP three, the UUP two, with one independent unionist returned.

A formal pact struck between the DUP and UUP two years ago was not replicated this time round, though both parties did step aside in certain battleground seats to maximise the pro-Union vote.

Meanwhile, a mooted "anti-Brexit" pact between pro-Remain parties such as the Greens, SDLP and Sinn Féin failed to materialise.

Despite the largely uneventful campaign, at least six of the 18 seats are set to be tightly fought.

Three Belfast constituencies - South, East and North - along with South Down, South Antrim and Fermanagh and South Tyrone could all go down to the wire.

Counting will take place at seven centres across the North, with results expected during the early hours of Friday.

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