Mary Kelly: The votes are in... but will anything change at Stormont?

The last of the votes in the assembly election should be counted today - the climax of a dull campaign to elect MLAs to a Stormont which might not even form an executive, says Mary Kelly.
The last of the votes in the assembly election should be counted today - the climax of a dull campaign to elect MLAs to a Stormont which might not even form an executive, says Mary Kelly.

BY the time you read this they'll probably be still counting the dregs of the votes for our not-much-loved assembly. I doubt anything will be changed – certainly not changed utterly. But there's always room for hope over expectation.

Opinion polls come and go, but it's the vote on the day that counts – as politicians love to say when the polls aren't favourable to their side. It's been a pretty dull campaign and it's likely to be even less fun waiting to see how long before we have a government up and running.

This was the first election in decades that I've spent as a mere spectator of events, instead of kicking my heels at some leisure centre, pressing politicians to come to the microphone for telly or radio interviews.

There's always a feeling of adrenalin as the results start coming in, even when the intricacies of the single transferable vote brought back memories of the bewilderment I used to feel at school when confronted with log tables.

Fortunately there was always at least one political anorak on hand who knew what was going on with surpluses and quotas.

They were invariably long days, punctuated by moments of stress as you tried to mob-hand a politico away from a rival broadcaster whispering, "Come with us. That lot will only keep you waiting during the ad breaks."

It was also one of the few times I actually felt sorry for politicians. You would see them walking around the count centres, trying to look cheerful as they watched votes piling up for their opponents while they hung around like a bad smell, hoping to scrape in on the last count.

It must have been hard not to take it personally, I remember telling John O'Dowd at the last assembly count. He shrugged and said you had to develop a thick hide in politics.

Then there were the set piece interviews with party leaders where tensions would rise when they weren't happy with the format, the set or even the furniture.

There was more than one fraught moment when David Trimble was leading the Ulster Unionist Party.

On one occasion he didn't like the podium that had been erected as it had a small edge around it to keep the politician in the right position for lighting. "I don't want to stand there. I want to walk around," he fumed, his face going increasingly more beetroot.

"Er, you can't or you'll be out of the light. It's not set up for movement," the director tried to explain as Trimble stomped off, trailed by an apologetic press officer and an increasingly worried producer. Me.

The audience was already seated, so it wouldn't be possible to start dismantling the set in front of them, I suggested. Eventually he calmed down, but not before he accused us of always deliberately lighting him to look "grotesque".

Trimble was often the worst, which I put down to nerves and a sign of the tension he was invariably under back in those early post-Agreement days. One other time, he arrived half an hour earlier than planned and wanted to start recording even as the camera crews were still setting up. I offered him a coffee and he barked "I won't be mollified" at me, while behind him a police protection officer rolled his eyes.

By the time we got started he was already wound up like a spring and under some probing by host, Noel Thompson, he completely lost the rag and began shouting while he gripped the edge of the table.

Ten minutes later, in the make-up room, he was completely affable, and laughing.

Sometimes I miss those heady days. But this time I'm in sunny Spain, so hasta la vista, baby.

Assembly Election Results