Senior SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole does not believe there will be a snap election in December after Electoral NI sent a letter to polling stations outlining possible dates as part of their “contingency planning”.

Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVeigh has sent a letter saying that the Stormont Assembly election could take place in three months’ time.

However, the Northern Ireland Office has not issued any guidance on the announcement.

According to a letter seen by Belfast Live, a possible vote could take place on December 8 or 15.

Sinn Fein MP John Finucane said the DUP’s decision to block the resumption of the Assembly was “a dereliction of duty”.

His party became the largest in Northern Ireland for the first time since May’s Assembly elections, with the DUP coming second.

Since then, the Assembly has been left in limbo after DUP leader Sir Geoffrey Donaldson refused to appoint a new speaker in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Under the legislation, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris will be required to call a snap election within 12 weeks if a devolved government is not formed by October 28 as Stormont ministers stand down.

This means that the election could take place on or before January 20, 2023. There is also the possibility that Westminster could introduce legislation to delay any potential snap election.

Ms McVea said there was a need to check the availability of schools and other venues to ensure the election did not conflict with Christmas nativity scenes and other events.

“We are not fully operational in polling mode, but just in case we are checking to see if there are any difficulties for any of our polling stations or our staff,” she told Belfast Live.

Ms McVeigh added that a potential election on December 8 or 15 was “just possible dates”.

South Belfast representative Mr O’Toole said the Electoral Office’s role required them to “oversee the preparations for the election”.

He continued: “This is their main function and they should be able to work quickly to facilitate the polls, but I do not believe that we will have an election in December. Every politician in this place should be ashamed to be knocking on doors this winter, standing by while families in every one of our communities struggle to keep the heat and lights on in their homes.”

North Belfast MP Mr Finucane said people had “voted for change” in May’s Assembly election and for the parties to work together.

Five largest parties were asked to respond.

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