Northern Ireland

Attwood rejects Sinn Fein's Belfast council ward concerns

MP Conor Murphy
Image caption Conor Murphy warned voters could end up with multiple voting cards

The environment minister has hit back at claims by Sinn Fein that there could be voting confusion at the next council election over redrawing council wards.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy said his party had identified problems when it came to organising voters by postal code.

He claimed a Land and Property Services database provided to the previous Boundary Commission listed some streets in two or more wards.

However, the minister Alex Attwood said Sinn Fein had got the issue "wrong".

He said "the confusion is theirs".

Mr Attwood was responding to Sinn Fein's call for him to step in after they identified multiple examples of streets listed in more than one ward.

Mr Murphy said one of the streets was Belfast's Royal Avenue, which, he said, was under three wards.

He said that it had the postal code of BT1 1DL, but was listed under three wards - Central, Duncairn and New Lodge.

The Sinn Fein MP said there needed to be clarity over which section of Royal Avenue fell into which area.

If it is not cleared up in time for 2014, he warned, voters could end up with multiple polling cards, deciding not to vote, or voting in the wrong ward.

"I think the worst case scenario is bureaucracy kicking in and people saying because the Boundary Commission is wound up we have no vehicle for sorting this problem out and we go towards an election which causes confusion among the voters," he said.

Mr Murphy said that his party was trying to resolve the issue, but had hit a bureaucratic wall between the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), which houses Land and Property Services, and the Department of Environment (DoE.

He insisted the environment minister, whose department is responsible for councils, should take the lead, along with Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.

When the BBC tried to get answers, the DoE said it was a matter for the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

The NIO said it was a matter for the assembly and executive. The DFP said it was a matter for the DoE.

Now the environment minister has stepped in and called the postal code issue irrelevant to setting district or ward boundaries.

Mr Attwood said postcodes, by nature, straddle multiple properties and can appear in multiple wards.

He insisted that local district council boundaries are defined by lines on maps which the assembly has debated and agreed.

"Sinn Fein has put two and two together and got five," said Mr Attwood.

"The claim that people could be allocated more than one vote for the next set of local government elections is not true. One person, one vote will prevail."

Former boundary commissioner, Dick Mackenzie, said the data was not part of his report, but was put on the website as a source of information.

One source said there were no wards as yet in law, but added that Sinn Fein was right to be concerned even though there was plenty of time to solve the problem.

One option is that the new district electoral area boundary commissioner might have his or her remit extended to ensure there was no confusion.

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