Monday 29 May 2017

The key issues you need to know as voting comes to a close in Northern Ireland Assembly election

Arlene Foster Photo: PA
Arlene Foster Photo: PA
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Voting in Northern Ireland's snap Assembly election has been described as steady, with some polling stations reporting higher early turnouts than last year's Stormont vote.

The electorate is returning to the polls to select a new devolved Assembly for the second time in less than a year.

The powersharing coalition executive led by the two largest parties at Stormont - the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein - collapsed in January.

Here are the key issues you need to know:

British troops in Northern Ireland

The Democratic Unionists are demanding measures to ensure British troops who served in Northern Ireland cannot face probes into their actions if they have already been investigated.

Some MPs have claimed the authorities are pursuing a "witch hunt" against elderly servicemen after recent decisions to prosecute over Troubles crimes.

Nationalists have said there should be no hiding place for any suspect, whether military, police or terrorist.

Prosecutors have pursued five times more cases surrounding individuals suspected of paramilitary crimes than those involving soldiers in the last five years.

Extra money for fresh inquests into controversial killings has been withheld amid discord over a new unit planned to investigate thousands of conflict deaths.

The Renewable Heat Incentive

The botched green energy scheme is predicted to cost taxpayers up to £490 million over the next 20 years.

It caused the collapse of power-sharing after former Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness resigned in protest and took DUP first minister Arlene Foster with him.

The scheme is paying out more than it cost to fuel biomass boilers, prompting allegations of empty sheds being heated.

A public inquiry is due to begin hearings after the election.

DUP leader Arlene Foster was the minister in charge when the RHI began. She denied any wrongdoing, refused to step aside as First Minister and branded claims she was arrogant as political "smears".

Sinn Fein has fought an electoral campaign focusing on promises to clean up "corruption".

Corruption claims surrounding the RHI have not been proven.

Cross-community voting

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said that, after his own party, he would vote for the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) ahead of other unionist candidates in the proportional representation election.

Mr Nesbitt did not advise other UUP supporters to adopt the same approach.

The comments prompted a backlash from some Ulster Unionists fighting for seats in the next Assembly who depend on transfers from other unionists and ridicule from Democratic Unionists.

The UUP and SDLP have positioned themselves as an alternative partnership government at Stormont to take the place of the long-standing DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has not explicitly said he would recommend a second preference for the UUP but urged supporters to back candidates who wanted change and praised Mr Nesbitt's stance.

An Irish language act.

The campaign for a law giving official protection is a touchstone equality issue for Sinn Fein.

Mrs Foster has said more people speak Polish and the DUP withheld support.

In 2014, former DUP culture minister Gregory Campbell was barred from addressing the Stormont Assembly for a day for phonetically parodying the language and failing to apologise, beginning a speech with: "Curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer". The Irish sentence "go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle" translates as "thank you, speaker".

Press Association

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