Every voter should make their voice heard at the ballot box - The Irish News view

With so much at stake, tensions are starting to show as voters prepare to go to the polls

BBC NI Leaders’ Debate in Belfast with (left to right) SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood, Sinn Fein Chris Hazzard, Justice Minister and Alliance leader Naomi Long, DUP Leader Gavin Robinson, and Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader Robbie Butler
(Liam McBurney/PA)

Every election is important but the various dramas being played out tomorrow have major implications at a range of levels on both sides of the Irish Sea and, for once, it is fair to say that every vote will count.

At least half of the 18 Northern Ireland constituencies are heading for a tight finish, on the basis of all recent opinion surveys, and there is more than a reasonable prospect that several of them could actually change hands.

The DUP is under greater pressure than any other group, with an intense spotlight on the epic head to head between its recently-appointed leader, Gavin Robinson, and his Alliance counterpart, Naomi Long, in East Belfast.

Noticeably blunt exchanges between the pair on BBC Radio Ulster yesterday morning demonstrated the tensions present in a rivalry which has become increasingly personal, as well as highlighting just how much is at stake politically.

Mr Robinson will be given an enormous boost if he retains the seat, against many predictions, although a defeat would not only leave him as an unelected leader but also, in all probability involve the massive symbolic and practical consequence that, for the first time in its parliamentary history, Belfast would not have a single unionist MP.

The DUP is also looking nervously at the counts in Lagan Valley, Strangford, South Antrim and East Antrim, among other areas, where on a bad day the party could suffer a series of devastating blows

Nationalists also face some major contests, with Sinn Féin hoping to bounce back from unexpectedly poor results south of the border in May and completely determined to prevail in ever marginal Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

The SDLP knows how strategically vital it is to maintain its hold on Foyle and South Belfast/Mid Down, while North Down will witness a fascinating struggle between Alliance and two high-profile unionists.

There has been a little cynicism that the main Stormont parties should announce a mini-budget on Monday, without waiting until the polls closed tomorrow, but the additional investment in health, education and social housing will still be strongly welcomed.

Across the water, Keir Starmer looks as though he will confidently and inevitably steer Labour to a Westminster majority of unpreceded proportions and send the Tories into an uncertain future.

The wider transformation which follows will also give him an early opportunity to intervene decisively here through positive announcements on new legacy legislation and the upgrading of the Casement Park project.

Every voter needs to make their voice heard tomorrow, regardless of party affiliations, and, with such crucial issues to be decided, there can be no excuse for apathy among the electorate.