Rathlin Islanders sign petition to save ballot box

A LARGE percentage of the population of Rathlin has already signed a petition objecting to plans to remove a ballot box from the island during elections.

Sinn Fein councillor Cara McShane said there was a possibility of inclement weather preventing Rathlin residents from voting if they intended to travel across to Ballycastle on voting day if the plans come to pass.

And she felt the ballot box move could be the first step in the withdrawal of a number of services from the island.

The councillor said all islands should islands around Britain and Ireland should have ballot boxes.

And DUP councillor Robert McIlroy said: "On Election Day the people of Rathlin are entitled to have the ballot box."

Sinn Fein councillor Cathal Newcombe said he was "inundated" with calls on the issue from Rathlin where he said feeling "runs very high".

He said postal votes were mentioned but he said people do not have confidence in that system.

Cllr Newcombe added: "If it was us in here being asked to fill in postal votes I think we would object".

Ulster Unionist councillors Helen Harding and Willie Graham said the ballot box should be kept on Rathlin.

In response to the proposed removal of Rathlin's Polling Station, the Rathlin community association has drawn up a petition in protest.

The petition, by last week, had already been signed by over twenty island residents.

The Electoral Office is currently consulting on the future locations of the polling stations and has proposed sending Rathlin islanders to Ballycastle to cast their votes.

Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy has written to the Chief Electoral Officer to ask him to reconsider.

"I believe that the proposed removal of the polling station on Rathlin is contrary to the Executive-agreed Rathlin Island Policy," Mr Murphy said.

"One of the strategic aims of the Rathlin Island Policy is to enhance community involvement and I consider that asking the electorate to either travel to Ballycastle to vote or to apply for a postal vote does not encourage such involvement and would further serve to isolate the community."

Graham Shields, who succeeds Douglas Bain as Chief Electoral Officer, said: "While I am confident that the proposals outlined in the consultation paper will help us provide an improved service, it is important that politicians and electors have their say."

If the proposals are implemented, the number of polling stations across Northern Ireland would be reduced from 1,512 to 1,415.

The consultation period, during which the public can raise any concerns about the plans, will run until December 23.