Northern Ireland news

Turnout in north for EU referendum tops Stormont poll

Voters arrive at Fortwilliam Presbyterian Church in north Belfast to cast their vote in the EU referendum. Picture by Hugh Russell

TURNOUT across Northern Ireland for Thursday's EU referendum surpassed that of last month's Stormont election.

Fears of widespread apathy among the electorate proved ill-founded with most constituencies topping 60 per cent.

North Down, where turnout is usually relatively low, ranked as one of the higher constituencies, with 67.33 per cent of its electorate casting their vote.

Early indications suggested more people were voting in areas with a unionist majorities. In nationalist-dominated Foyle, close to with the Republic, turnout was comparatively low at 57.18 per cent, just marginally above the 56 per cent who voted in last month's Stormont poll.

The referendum marked the first time since Britain joined the then EEC in 1975 that the electorate had the opportunity to choose whether to remain a member or to leave.

While torrential downpours forced the closure of a number of polling stations in southern England, Northern Ireland enjoyed reasonably good weather, with the rain only arriving sporadically late in the day.

According to the north's chief electoral officer Graham Shields voting was "brisk", with numbers typically surging around teatime and towards 10pm.

Earlier in the day, Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said she was hopeful of a high turnout.

The DUP leader, who throughout the campaign supported a Brexit, said it was important that those on both sides of the debate made their voices heard.

"I understand there has been a good turn-out in some of the areas where previously there hasn't been so far – so that's good to hear," she said.

The Fermanagh-South Tyrone MLA added: "Everyone has the opportunity to cast their vote today and I hope they take that opportunity, regardless of what that might be, because this is a huge opportunity for all the citizens of the United Kingdom to make their voices heard in terms of the European Union."

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, a Remain advocate, had also encouraged people to get out and vote.

"Come out and vote, if you haven't voted there is still time, vote to remain - it's not in Ireland's interests to do anything else," he said.

Verification of ballots at the north's eight count centres, covering the region's 18 parliamentary constituencies, began as the polls closed, with counting commencing soon afterwards.

The Derry count centre made the first declaration with Foyle voting decisively to Remain.

Ahead of the result being declared one leading forecaster was predicting a post-referendum "mini-boom" for UK economy, with some delayed investment decisions likely to go ahead even if the electorate backed a Brexit. However, early results which hinted heavily at a Leave victory prompted the value of Sterling to plummet.

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