BELFAST (Reuters) – Sinn Fein holds a six-point lead with less than a week to go to elections in Northern Ireland, a poll showed on Friday, as they seek to become the first Irish nationalist party to win the most seats in the British-run province’s regional parliament.
Support for Sinn Fein, which wants Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and unite with the adjacent Republic of Ireland, remained unchanged from the start of the campaign at 26%, the Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk survey showed.
That would mark a slight retreat from the record 27.9% Sinn Fein secured at the last election in 2017, but it has benefited from the collapse in support over the last 18 months for its nearest rival, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The DUP, the largest pro-British party, edged Sinn Fein with 28.1% of the first preference vote in 2017 but its vote dropped to 20% in Friday’s poll, up just one percentage point in the last month.
The main nationalist and unionist rivals in Northern Ireland are obliged to share power under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, which largely ended three decades of sectarian bloodshed in the region.
However the DUP has said it will not enter a new power-sharing government unless the Northern Ireland protocol governing post-Brexit trade with the rest of the United Kingdom is completely overhauled.
Britain and the European Union are at an impasse in talks to remove many of the checks on goods coming from the rest of the UK agreed under the protocol, a British minister said on Thursday.
In the latest poll, Northern Ireland’s cross-community Alliance Party and the more hardline Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) look set to gain most compared to the last election, polling at 14% and 9% respectively.
The more moderate Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) were on 14% with the Irish nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) on 10%.
Friday’s poll did have some encouraging news for the DUP with 75% of TUV voters and 52% of UUP supporters saying they will give the DUP their second preference vote.
Under Northern Ireland’s proportional representation voting system, candidates can pick up surplus votes from those elected or eliminated, giving them a shot at winning the final seats in the multi-seat constituencies.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Mark Heinrich)