Electoral Office rejects Commission’s direction against moving Moygashel voters 5 miles

So what’s the crack with the election in Northern Ireland? Well, as I mentioned in our first Slugger Daily Report on Periscope the real action is the ground war. With few seats expected to change hands every advantage is fiercely fought over.

In what may turn out to be the only seriously competitive seat of the election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone the removal of a polling place from a state school to a local Catholic school and Dungannon Leisure Centre could affect the overall outcome.

Why was it done ? Because of “claims that loyalist flag protesters prevented some people from voting there at last year’s local government and European elections”.

The decision made by the Chief Electoral Officer Graham Shiels on 30th January was met by two appeals in March on the grounds that the Electoral Office‘s review had not been “conducted so as to meet the electors’ reasonable requirements”.

The Commission upheld the appeals saying that the decision was both a far reaching and last minute change to the Electoral Office’s own original proposal to press ahead with plans to use Howard Memorial Primary School as a polling place.

In their letter to Mr Sheils the Commission highlights the degree of the disruption. Dungannon Leisure Centre is 1.6 miles and Roan St. Patrick’s Primary School, Eglish 5 miles away from Howard Memorial Primary School respectively.

At core the Commission says the decision was sprung on local electors at a point when they were unable to provide their views, and in consequence they wrote to Mr Sheils to:

…direct you under section 18D(4)(a) RPA 1983 to reinstate Howard Memorial Primary School as the polling place for the voters who you allocated to Dungannon Leisure Centre and Roan St. Patrick’s Primary School, Eglish.

However as they acknowledge on their own website, it is unlikely that it could be implemented in time for 7th May.

In turning down that direction the Electoral Officer did not so much ignore the Commission as carry on with the governing logic of his own late decision to axe Moygashel.

All’s fair in love and war in FST. [Another Trojan Horse Burger for the barbie? – Ed] Well, that’s clearly how local DUP MLA Maurice Morrow is thinking:

“It would appear Sinn Fein were content to have the decision to close Moygashel polling station made in absence of the requisite equality impact assessment. That is gross hypocrisy given Sinn Fein’s much heralding of such assessments.

“It is unfair, unjust and discriminatory to penalise an entire section of the electorate to fulfil revenge.”

It also illustrates just how this constituency could be won or lost on turnout at individual polling stations. So on the day we’ll be keeping a very close eye on the turnout for the relevant boxes at St Patrick’s and Dungannon Leisure Centre.

Indeed, we’ll be especially keen to hear from readers just what the turnout has been all across Fermanagh and South Tyrone (ditto South and East Belfast). So DO let us know if you can provide us with the turnout at your station at 1pm, 6pm or 9pm?

Note: For the duration of the election campaign I’ll be broadcasting a short daily electoral report at 10am on Periscope, an iPhone app which works alongside Twitter. For those who can, follow me in Periscope so you won’t miss out!

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty