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!

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  • PaulT

    Mick your link states the reason for the change as……….

    “Mr Shields said the protestors had created an atmosphere which was described by a former senior observer from the Electoral Commission as “tense and hostile” – leaving the observer in no doubt that some voters would have found the protest “intimidating and unpredictable”…… “It is my responsibility to ensure that all electors in Northern Ireland are able to exercise their right to vote in an environment free from intimidation or hostility……..“Clearly what happened at Howard Memorial last year was unacceptable in a democratic society and could not be ignored.

    Yet you state the reason as ….

    “Why was it done ? Because of “claims that loyalist flag protesters prevented some people from voting”

    Two very different reasons

  • Turgon

    In elections it is vital everyone has a fair and free vote. As such the Moygashel incident is a significant concern. However, in cases such as this it is vital that all incidents are treated equally and fairly.

    As such whataboutery is entirely appropriate.

    In 2001 the year Gildernew was elected there was a significantly more serious incident at Garrison polling station with intimidation of electoral workers and the polling station kept open long after its 10pm closure time.

    Since Garrison was subsequently kept open as a polling station Moygashel should also be kept open with the necessary police presence to ensure that no intimidation or corruption of the democratic process is allowed.

  • PaulT

    Fantastic stuff from Slugger as usual,

    nationalists trying to vote in 2001 = BAD
    unionists preventing nationalists from voting in 2010 = GOOD

    Keep up the good work

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Where is the evidence of this?

  • mickfealty

    That’s just the long way and the short way. The quote I used was from the BBC. Have a listen to this morning’s (re-recorded) SluggerDaily Report on our new Audioboom channel: http://goo.gl/vLzFZm. You might change your mind?

  • PaulT

    Whose quote are you using, is it another one from Shield or someone who thrumps him, or one that suits your agenda.

    Me, I’m using a quote from Shield himself which is also a statement of fact not a claim….

  • mickfealty

    The LINK is in the quoted text. How on earth could you miss that? And his name is Shiels, not Shields. And that’s not the only thing you’re making up in your posts.

    Paul this is just man playing guff. You know the rules better than most. Find the ball and play it hard as you like. But habitual man players get treated peremptorily these days.

    This space has to be clear for real challenges, not just partisan propagandising. We welcome all forms of ‘players’ on our blogging team as much as the comment zones.

    But I have no time for time or digital space wasting. Shape up or ship out!

  • PaulT

    Speaking of Trolling Mick, I asked who you were quoting, your reply is to point out I’ve spelt his name wrong, then accuse me of making things up. Really is that the best reply from Slugger

    Mick, I’ve quoted the man from your link I can see no quote from anyone in authority stating anything other than that.

    Furthermore, it’s basic stuff that decisions are made on facts and not ‘claims’ so your wee bit of trolling doesn’t stack up

    Also, can I point out your fellow slugger bloggers dollop of whataboutry below,

    Presume thats the kind of debate you’re fishing for

    same old same old slugger

  • PaulT

    just read above

  • james

    ‘Gerrymandering’ for the 21st Century.

  • PaulT

    “And his name is Shiels, not Shields.”

    Also Mick, another fact you might want to check is the spelling of his name,

    “And that’s not the only thing you’re making up in your posts.”

    Indeed

    “this is just man playing guff”

    double indeed

    hope I didn’t use too many of your pixels there Mick

  • banana man

    sure Unionists basically have been holding fleg protests at polling stations for years even in mixed areas. intimidating people who they know to be catholic or nationalist while entering the polling station

  • Ciarán

    Mick that’s a nonsense. Your article should stand up to a straight read without forcing the reader to click on links for critical context. A read of this article suggests to me that the ‘claims’ loyalist flag protestors prevented people from voting may or may not be true. Furthermore you tie this whole piece together with a reference to Sinn Fein’s Equality Trojan Horse (more like Slugger O’Toole’s Dead Donkey – Ed) not sure why that’s important here but a casual reader could ultimately conclude that the decision to move the polling from a protestant school to a catholic one 5 miles away is somehow an underhand tactic by Sinn Fein as part of their equality Trojan Horse.

  • kalista63

    Yep, there was also a conviction relaging to loyalist activity. Possession of a knife, as Inrecall. Also, Sinn Fein posters were taken down in the vacinity.

  • NMS

    Why not restrict activities in the vicinity of all polling stations? Since such a law was introduced in Ireland, it has made voting so much easier with no horde of canvassers to kick out of the way as do your duty.

  • Thomas Girvan

    So, what about the folk who live in Moygashel?
    Are they supposed to travel 5 miles to vote?
    Some hope.
    If there are difficulties at the polling station then the police should sort it out.
    Democracy should be paramount.
    The decision here is completely disgraceful..

  • LordSummerisle

    Vote Early and Vote Often ! What time does the cemetery close ? The recently departed need to cast their vote.

  • Colin Lamont

    The audio quality is terrible Mick, is it my PC or can you improve it?

  • Colin Lamont

    Being such a large and sprawling constituency I assume there are other electors who must travel a similar distance to their local polling station?
    This seat will most definitely come down to the election day ground operation as Mick has alluded to.

  • Gopher

    I agree with you, it does seem odd something 6-12 police and some CCTV sorts outs gets the nuclear option right away. Its like a very dodgy penalty decision.

  • mickfealty

    The quote marks are clear enough. The link is courtesy, not an aid to comprehension.

  • mickfealty

    No, it is truly awful. It’s recorded slowly for some reason. I’ll see if its rescuable.

  • mickfealty

    Goodbye.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Turgon,

    You say significantly more serious incident. I wonder what you mean.

    In one incident, people lawfully entitled to vote and arriving during the station’s opening hours were intimidated from voting by a crowd of loyalists, one of whom was later convicted of possessing a knife.

    In the other incident, a polling station was kept open beyond the lawful opening hours. Nobody was prevented from exercising their right to vote by a mob. Nobody in the crowd that intimidated the electoral officer onsite was convicted for possessing any offensive weapons.

    In qualitative terms, surely the denial of the right to vote by a mob is far more serious than the counting of a few people who turned up late. That is how the courts saw it.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    ID requirements mean that this kind of personation can no longer happen.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    If there are difficulties at the polling station then the police should sort it out.

    It’s likely that the police have said that they cannot stop a protest from taking place. But as usual this is calling upon the police to clean up a mess rather than society dealing with the root cause.

    Worth adding that the chief electoral officer has a responsibility to keep the electoral process free from intimidation, but also a legal responsibility to his employees to keep their workplace free from threats.

    The right way to sort this out is for politicians to legislate to prevent protests or demonstrations (or any kind of political activity) from occurring within 300 metres of a polling station. But unionists won’t support that because they don’t want to be seen to be going against the right of loyalists to intimidate people under the guise of “protest”. So closed polling stations it is.

    Hope springs eternal that maybe one day loyalists will recognize that intimidating people is like throwing a boomerang that eventually comes back right in the face.

  • LordSummerisle

    Thank goodness no political party on this very Northern Ireland would be aparty to that sort of thing, I would hope.

  • Gopher

    Why is Garrison not closed?

  • Zig70

    I don’t think anyone should have to vote in an area with paramilitary paraphernalia, as in flags, murals and graffiti within line of sight. I’m not saying Moygashel has, don’t know anything about the place but there is a wider issue about the sites selected for polling stations. Maybe if people lost their ease of voting the politicians would be less tolerant of paramilitary trappings.

  • hugh mccloy

    What an insightful addition to the article, all parties pee on posts and have precision targeting at polling stations.

  • Thomas Girvan

    I am not opposed to polling stations being free from overly intrusive politics. Surely it is not beyond the police to ensure that.
    That is not my point, when you say that “intimidating people is like throwing a boomerang that eventually comes back right in the face”
    Whose face?
    Why should the people in and around Moygashel be denied the ability to vote without having to travel 5 miles?
    It doesn’t solve the democratic deficit, it makes it worse..

  • Robin Keogh

    Another consequence of extreme Unionist mob culture. It is indeed unfair that many people will have to travel further than usual to cast their vote, but rather than blame the authorities who are tasked with making decisions on these issues why not pin the blame where it truly lies; and that is on the marauding loyalists who cannot help but do their best to make life as difficult as possible for basically anybody who can spell and does not drink gallons of buckfast.

  • Robin Keogh

    Really? Is that what u honestly think James? U think trying to avoid loyalists aggressive and violent intimidation amounts to gerrymandering?

  • Robin Keogh

    Have you just banned PaulT too?

  • james

    Nope, I think that Republicans are only outraged by such things because they didn’y think of them first. I wonder if you were, as I was, shocked and appalled by their infamously using intimidation to (illegally) keep a polling station open after the deadline to shoehorn Gildernew into the chair last time round?

  • Robin Keogh

    Honestly James if u think the two circumstances are honestly comparible than u fall greatly in my esteem.

  • Thomas Girvan

    Hmm you might be on to something.
    What about banning any polling stations in loyalist areas?
    There’s a thought.
    Sinn Fein take note.

  • Gerrynearly

    Er, they can go to Dungannon Leisure Centre, which is 1.6 miles away? If they are able bodied they could walk it in half an hour. If not I have the number of several locl taxi firms that could take them. Anyway, Howard School isn’t even in Moygashel, its in Dungannon

  • kalista63

    In fairness to him, read the headline of Mick’s piece.

  • Gerrynearly

    Fair enough, but the headline is misleading. They’re not being moved 5 miles unless they have been specifically told to go to Eglish

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Nobody was convicted. Nobody was prevented from casting a vote.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I am not opposed to polling stations being free from overly intrusive politics. Surely it is not beyond the police to ensure that.

    Yes, it is beyond the police to stop intimidation masquerading as protest when they don’t have the political backing to do so.

    That is not my point, when you say that “intimidating people is like throwing a boomerang that eventually comes back right in the face”
    Whose face?

    The faces of the entire community in the area.

    Why should the people in and around Moygashel be denied the ability to vote without having to travel 5 miles?

    A serious inconvenience which would be prevented if unionists would adopt a more responsible attitude to public protest and how it should be policed.

    It doesn’t solve the democratic deficit, it makes it worse..

    Indeed. The problem is that if you try to get everyone around a table and decide how we are going to solve the conflict between public order and the right to protest, which is the cause of problems like this, the unionists won’t turn up.

  • Turgon

    The circumstances are similar. In Moygashel there were protests outside the polling station (I agree unacceptable). In Garrison the protestors intimidated election workers and prevented closure of the polling station when it was meant to close. Both Moygashel and arguably even more so Garrison’s votes were on the respective occasions fatally flawed and tainted.

    The events have further similarities. In Moygashel it is possible that nationalist voters were dissuaded from voting (totally unacceptable). In Garrison it is possible unionist voters were also dissuaded. As someone who knows both areas (unlike I suspect you Mr. Keogh) there are minorities from the other community in each case.

    Yet in the Garrison case no remedial action was taken whereas in the Moygashel attempts at remedial action have been taken.

  • Thomas Girvan

    Well, what’s the point then if the protesters can dander down to the Leisure centre?
    That makes it even more daft.
    The point is that the tail is wagging the dog here.
    The priority should e to ensure as many people as possible are able to vote.

  • Turgon

    You have no way of knowing that. At Garrison what might be called known republican activists turned up before 10pm and forced the station to stay open past 10pm. Any unionists about the polling station would be most unlikely to have wanted to stay. Garrison is hardly unionist friendly and is pretty remote.

    After the forced opening was enacted it is unclear whether proper checks continued to ensure that all electors were eligible , ensure no ballot stuffing etc.

  • mickfealty

    Yes. He’s had a very very long rope.

  • mickfealty

    Yes, we certainly don’t. In either case. Most outstanding aspect here is not the rights and wrongs of the decision but it’s lateness which appears to have been designed to avoid the need for the imposition of equality laws.

  • Turgon

    This is fundamentally racism. Undoubtedly there are many examples of mobs from the PUL community and there is no doubt that at times they have behaved in a deeply sectarian fashion (at other times mobs have simply behaved in a generalised apolitical loutish fashion). Sadly this is common throughout societies. It is something to be roundly condemned.

    Mr. Keogh makes great play of “extreme Unionist mob culture.” Well again if he frames it in that fashion nationalist mob culture should also be highlighted. Like nationalist mob culture years ago which intimidated SDLP politicians out of their homes; which led to the murder of two soldiers at the funeral in Andersonstown; which led to the murder of Paul Quinn or Robert Hamil though this latter pair look more organised than “Mob culture”.

    Leaving aside the racism Mr. Keogh I would not go down this line as there are plenty of examples of mob culture and much worse from your heroic republican community.

    A wiser man would simply condemn all such examples of mob violence whether they occur on the streets of Belfast, Londonderry, London or wherever. As usual no doubt though you will retreat into your standard strategy of saying you are from Wicklow and know little about Northern Ireland: selective ignorance one might call it.

  • mac tire

    Mick, are you suggesting some sort of intrigue in this case? Apologies if I have picked you up wrong.

  • Robin Keogh

    But in Garrison the incident occurred at the end of the day when there had been a full day of voting without incident, in Moygashel the intimidation and knife wielding occured earlier in the day when many people had not yet been to the polling station to vote, am i correct?

  • Robin Keogh

    I dont approve of mob culture in any scenario, but at least during the troubles one could suggest that it is a sympton of conflict and tension. Today we have a peace process and a (somewhat shaky) political process. The conflict is over and there is no reason for any sort of mob violence from either side. I dont apologize for condeming the loyalists who are constantly rioting over the fleg and burning non-nationals out of their homes. Turgon you can ‘whatabout’ all day long if it makes you feel better but the facts are plain to see. While the overwhelming majority of nats and republicans are leaving the past behind we have an element within Unionism and Loyalism that is hell bent on making life as difficult possible for so many people. I could be living on the moon and still be able to see that quite clearly.

  • james

    The old SF mantra of vote early, vote often is equally an abuse of democracy. And, yes, if one station stays open longer than is allowed, that is an a abuse of democracy.

  • Robin Keogh

    I will be the only republican left before long, better watch my step

  • james

    Not comparable at all. One was done by Republicans and is thus, by default, totally acceptable. Four legs good, two legs bad – how do you say that in Irish?

  • Robin Keogh

    Dont be Glib….

  • mickfealty

    Stick the rules, you’ll be fine… 🙂

  • Janos Bingham

    Most Oppressed Posters…..Ever?

  • mickfealty

    Not if you vote in a box that’s gone to Eglish… You don’t get a choice. Watching the turnout in all the former Moygashel boxes on the day will give us an idea of the actual effect.

  • PaulT

    Bungeeeeeeeee Rope

  • mac tire

    James, the incident you refer to happened in 2001 (not “last time round” as you say).
    In the reports at the time, it was acknowledged that there were problems of people standing in line for well over an hour, attempting to do their democratic duty.
    The incidents with the protestors at Moygashel was an attempt to intimidate people who were doing their democratic duty.

  • Turgon

    Selective ignorance strikes immediately. Two of the episodes I cited of republican mob culture occurred after the end of the Troubles.

    As to the overwhelming majority of nationalists and republicans leaving the past behind: that is indeed true just as it is for the majority of Unionists.

    That said for every bit of loyalist obsession with the past we have analogous republican obsession with the past: Hunger Strike parades, play parks, demands for enquiries into security forces actions, demands for support for exprisoners. One could go on and on.

    The reality is that most people here wish to improve the place but not forget the past. The past will always be contested up to a point but there is a vital difference. Most unionists and most nationalists regard terrorist, mob, whatever violence present and past as wrong.

    That is much the most common position unsupported by loyalist and republican thugs, ex paramilitaries and their political supporters / apologists / hangers on.

  • Colin Lamont

    Only if we have something to compare it to though, I can’t recall a turnout thread from 2010 but I might have a search now…

  • Ciarán

    Worth a read of Newton Emerson in today’s Irish News:
    “curiously in all the fuss the Unionist parties have made about this [decision to close polling station], direct criticism of the loyalists who caused it appears to have been entirely absent.” how to put this…. Quite

  • Robin Keogh

    Well lets keep it simple then. Who or what over the last two years have been tearing up the streets, attacking the police, bombing alliance offices and burning foreigners out of their homes?Would that be loyalists by any chance? Your ‘one is as bad as the other’ argument is a pathetic effort to cover up the serious and vile hatred that is pouring onto the streets from sections of the Unionist/ Loyalist community. You wont solve it by pretending it doesnt exist.