Unionist anger as Moygashel polling station ban upheld

There were loyalist protests at Howard Primary School in Moygashel during elections last year
There were loyalist protests at Howard Primary School in Moygashel during elections last year

Unionists have vowed to continue the fight to have a Co Tyrone primary school reinstated as a polling station.

Howard Primary in Moygashel was deemed to be no longer suitable following loyalist protests during the European and council elections in May 2014.

Observers from the Electoral Commission were present and later raised concerns about a “hostile” environment.

On Wednesday, the commission backed the decision taken by the chief electoral officer, to switch polling to Dungannon Leisure Centre and Roan St Patrick’s Primary School in Eglish.

Both the DUP and Ulster Unionists challenged the decision but their appeals have been rejected.

The commission said: “After considering the appeals the commission has found that the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland’s review was conducted so as to meet electors’ reasonable requirements and sufficient account was taken of the accessibility to disabled persons of polling stations within the Dungannon Leisure Centre polling place.”

Lord Morrow of the DUP said: “The report focuses on issues of process and technicality rather than providing an answer to the fundamental question; why did the chief electoral officer take the decision to close Howard Memorial School as a polling station?

“The purported rationale for the move is to prevent a repeat of the 2014 incident.

“Yet this is contradicted in the commission’s own report. The PSNI assessment states the new polling place is actually more difficult to police.”

He added: “Neither does it answer why Moygashel was treated differently or more harshly.

“Other polling stations have had shooting incidents and rioting yet they were subjected to no sanction by the Electoral Office.”

Fermanagh & South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott said a large number of elderly people relied on Howard Primary to vote and that the “flawed decision” was viewed by many as a political decision to satisfy Sinn Fein.

“The so-called ‘consultation process’ which the Electoral Office was forced to undertake, didn’t directly consult with the vast numbers of electors who were forced to go to two different wards to record their vote.”

Mr Elliott added: “I wish to record my thanks and appreciation to the residents of Moygashel and Coolhill who made the extra effort, some at a significant additional cost in finance and personal inconvenience, to get to a polling station whatever way they could in May of this year.”