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Brexit and protecting Northern Ireland's interests are key issues in this election

It is hard to argue that this Westminster election has been the most compelling of recent political campaigns in Northern Ireland.

After all, it is just three months since we voted in the snap Assembly election in March and that came only ten months after the previous Stormont poll in May last year.

So it is hardly surprising that a bit of election fatigue has affected the parties and the public.

But we also know that elections do matter and votes do count. That was demonstrated in dramatic fashion in March when the surge in nationalist votes delivered an end to the unionist majority.

And while Theresa May had her own internal party reasons for calling this week's general election - and it remains to be seen if her high risk gamble will pay off - there is a much bigger issue at stake in all of this.

The vote in favour of Brexit has completely changed the political landscape and will have profound and far-reaching repercussions for everyone on this island and in Britain.

Northern Ireland voted decisively in favour of remaining in the European Union, fully recognising the many benefits in terms of security, stability and the wider economic advantages that come with being part of a large-scale trading entity.

Many people are maybe now realising what we stand to lose in terms of access to skilled workers from EU countries and the important role they play in our health service, agri-food and hospitality industries.

We still do not know what trade agreements are likely to be drawn up or even if they will be in place by the time the UK leaves in 2019.

Nor is there a firm arrangement on border controls that could have a significant impact on the movement of thousands of people and vehicles on a daily basis.

There are any number of unknowns yet the clock is ticking on the final date of withdrawal and negotiations have not even begun in earnest.

Although Theresa May's government has shown little interest in our concerns, particularly over a hard border, the EU has put this issue at the centre of its negotiating position, saying it is one of three points that have to be resolved before talks can get under way.

What we need are political representatives who will protect Northern Ireland's interests and ensure the views of the majority who voted to Remain are reflected in forthcoming discussions.

Traditionally, the Irish News does not tell readers which party or candidate to vote for but simply urges everyone to exercise their franchise.

However, given the potentially disastrous implications of a hard Brexit, this election is an opportunity to return MPs who can make our voice heard and work to secure the best possible deal for the people of Northern Ireland.

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