The European election race is well underway in the Six Counties after candidates from the DUP, Sinn Féin and SDLP handed in their nomination papers.
Jim Allister (DUP), Bairbre de Brun (Sinn Féin) and Martin Morgan (SDLP) have been nominated, joining the Ulster Unionist candidate Jim Nicholson, who lodged his nomination papers last week.
Journalist Eamonn McCann will represent the Socialist Environmental Alliance, while the Green Party of Northern Ireland is set to make a last minute substitution. Their candidate, Marie Perry, is withdrawing after she received a sports injury. The party’s co-leader, Lindsay Whitcroft, will be nominated in her place, according to reports.
It also emerged that John Gilliland, who is contesting the election as a pro-European non-aligned candidate, has secured the support of both Alliance and the Workers Party.
The DUP are campaigning on the basis that their candidate can stop Sinn Féin topping the poll.
“There is a possibility - I hope it is not more than that - that Sinn Féin could benefit very considerably from the collapse of the SDLP vote.
“If that were to happen, then the Sinn Féin organisation would be hoping that it could parade around this world strutting as the leader of political opinion in Northern Ireland.”
DUP leader Ian Paisley also said the election was crucial, but Sinn Féin was not going to top the poll.
“We are on the march to victory,” Mr Paisley said.
Sinn Féin’s Bairbre de Brun, who was accompanied yesterday by party president Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Armagh mayor Pat O’Rawe, said it was the only party standing candidates in all five Irish constituencies.
“We do not take the electorate for granted, but I am confident that we will have a successful election in the six counties and indeed across the island,” she said. “The elections of course also fall at a significant time in the wider peace process.
“The electorate have the opportunity to once again endorse our peace strategy and send us into future negotiations in a stronger position than before to stand up for their rights and entitlements.”
The Sinn Féin candidate yesterday shrugged off DUP calls for unionists to stop her from topping the poll. She said it was a typical DUP approach to go past the issues to personalities and to try to scare out unionist voters.
Meanwhile, European election candidate Eamonn McCann has lost a legal battle to force the BBC and UTV television channels to allocate him a party election broadcast.
In the High Court, Mr McCann was refused leave to seek a judicial review of a decision to refuse him a broadcast.
Instead, the broadcasters have jointly decided to allocate three each to the four mainstream parties - the DUP, the UUP, Sinn Féin and the SDLP.
Mr McCann said the broadcasters’ decision was “arbitrary, unfair and an abuse of journalistic and political power”.
“I regret this decision, but we move on and will nominate tomorrow. Despite all this, we are going to give it a real run.”
In Dublin, the city is already festooned with posters for the European election there, with Sinn Féin candidate Mary Lou McDonald featuring prominently.
She handed in her nomination papers yesterday, saying that the forthcoming elections were an ‘opportunity for real change’.
She said she was “very proud” to have been selected to represent Sinn Féin for the Dublin constituency.
The people of Dublin had the opportunity to make history on the 11th June by electing a Sinn Féin MEP, she added.
“This is the most important European election that Sinn Féin has ever faced. Over the last few weeks I have been in every area in Dublin and the one thing that is evident everywhere is real and genuine anger at the government’s disregard for the electorate, whether it is in relation to the ongoing problems in the health service, lack of affordable housing, transport chaos or their failure to properly defend the Good Friday Agreement.”