Page last updated at 15:15 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 16:15 UK

NI's parties gear up for election

Houses of Parliament
The general election will be held on 6 May

Northern Ireland's politicians are gearing up for four weeks of campaigning, ahead of the general election on 6 May.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown made the announcement on Tuesday, after informing the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Eighteen seats at Westminster are up for grabs in Northern Ireland.

In the last general election in 2005, the DUP took nine seats, Sinn Fein took five, the SDLP three and the UUP one.

The general election will be held on Thursday 6 May.

In Britain, the economy will take centre stage with all parties arguing that they have the right plans to lift the country out of recession.

According to BBC NI political reporter Stephen Walker, the election will test local parties and their leaders in different ways, with intriguing contests in a number of key seats.

Despite well-documented problems, Sir Reg Empey hopes the Ulster Unionists' alliance with the Conservatives will bear fruit.

Peter Robinson of the DUP and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein may both wonder how recent press coverage will affect their parties respective votes.

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie knows she faces a challenge as she bids to become an MP and parties like the Alliance, the Greens and the Traditional Unionist Voice will wonder if they can cause a few surprises.

So stand by for a month of manifestoes, press launches and election debates and get ready for a long night on 6 May.

Campaign

On Tuesday, DUP leader Peter Robinson outlined his party's approach to "the most open general election contest in a generation".

Mr Robinson said: "This election presents the Northern Ireland electorate with the greatest opportunity in a generation.

"Every vote in the House of Commons will count. Therefore we need to send MPs to Westminster who will always vote in the interests of Northern Ireland."

Earlier, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams welcomed the announcement that the election will take place on 6 May.

Mr Adams said: "Sinn Fein have been preparing for this election for some months.

"Our activists have been out on the doorsteps and we now look forward to the campaign."

The Ulster Conservatives and Unionists (UCU) said it was offering the NI electorate an opportunity to influence Westminster government by voting for those who could have ministers in a new administration.

In a statement issued on behalf of Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey and Conservative Party leader David Cameron, UCU said it wanted to "end Northern Ireland's semi-detached political status".

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said that because of the limited nature of devolved powers, a strong voice for her party was essential at Westminster.

Ms Ritchie said: "We don't believe this dimension can or should be ignored if devolution is to flourish, and that is why we will be seeking to maximise our votes and our representation in this general election."

Alliance leader David Ford said his party was relishing the forthcoming campaign.

Mr Ford said: "Anyone who wants a shared future know that only Alliance makes it their number one priority."

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "TUV looks forward to building on the remarkable foundation laid in the European Election and to challenging strongly in key seats, and not just in North Antrim."

If the election produces a hung parliament, Northern Ireland's MPs could find themselves in a position to extract concessions in return for their support.

As opposed to Northern Ireland Assembly elections which use proportional representation of multiple candidates, the winner in the Westminster election is the candidate who comes first in their constituency.

Voters can only pick one candidate. On election day, there will be 1,512 polling stations across Northern Ireland.



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