Northern Ireland

NI Assembly election: Newbuildings polling station moved over flag complaints

A sign outside Newbuildings Primary School
Image caption The polling station has been moved to Newbuildings Primary School

A community centre in County Londonderry has been dropped as a polling station after complaints over the erection of loyalist flags.

At last year's Westminster election, the centre in Newbuildings was selected as the area's polling station.

But some voters complained that they felt intimidated because flags had been flown in the grounds.

The polling station will now move to Newbuildings Primary School, where it had previously been located.

Voters go to the polls for the Northern Ireland Assembly election on 5 May.

Unhappy

Graham Shields, the chief electoral officer, took the decision after he investigated the complaints.

"The reason [for the move] was that loyalist flags were erected in the car park of the community centre," Mr Shields said.

"On polling day, I received a number of complaints from people who were unhappy and felt intimidated when they went to vote by the presence of the flags.

Image caption Voters complained about flags erected at the centre during the 2015 Westminster election

"What we tried to do last year in using the community centre was to minimise the disruption to the local community by having to close the school on polling day.

"However, we feel it is a safer and a more neutral venue to go back to the school."

Atmosphere

Mr Shields said it was an important principle that polling stations should be kept neutral.

"We do not want to see anyone feeling unable to exercise their franchise because they feel intimidated," he said.

"We will do everything possible to ensure that people can vote in an atmosphere free from intimidation."

He said his office carried out the necessary consultation about the move and received no objections.

A polling station was removed from Howard Primary School in Moygashel, County Tyrone, at last year's Westminster Election after loyalist flag protestors appeared there at the European and council elections in May 2014.

The primary school will not be used as a polling station in the forthcoming assembly election.

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