Northern Ireland

Assembly election 'likely to cost £5m'

Graham Shields
Image caption Graham Shields will retire at the end of January

March's Assembly election is likely to cost £5m, Northern Ireland's outgoing chief electoral officer has said.

Graham Shields said he expected the figure to be roughly the same as last May's election, which cost £5m.

Work which would have allowed people to register to vote online has had to be put to the side because of the snap vote, he added.

He urged 60,000 people whose names have been removed from the register to reapply.

"Those 60,000 people were people who did not respond to the last canvass in the Autumn of 2013 and they were retained on the register for three years up until December 2016," he said.

"But by law they had to come off because we had not heard from them in the intervening period.

"It's very simple for those people or indeed anybody who is not on the register to get back on at this point.

"All they have to do is complete a fresh registration form and submit it to us.

Image caption Voters will be turned away from polling stations unless they are registered

"It's important that we hear from them by 14 February because that is the deadline for registering, and if anybody needs any information, please contact our offices or ring the helpline on 0800 4320712."

At present, online registration is not available but Mr Shields said this was something that was being worked on.

"Indeed had it not been for the election, it is very likely we would have been able to bring it in in the next month or so," he said.

"Regretfully that work has had to be put to the side until we see through the election but it is coming and it will come later this year but unfortunately not before the election."

Fresh Assembly elections were called on 16 January after the executive collapsed over the scandal surrounding the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a botched green energy scheme.

Voters will go to the polls on Thursday 2 March.

Mr Shields said the short lead-up to the election meant it was a "very, very busy time in the office".

Image caption Virginia McVea is the former director of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

"A number of staff have given up long planned for holidays - some to the Bahamas and Florida - to make sure that they're available to work over the election period," he said.

"We all owe them a great deal of gratitude for doing that. They will be working weekends and evenings in the run-up to the election so it's all hands to the till here."

Virginia McVea, the former director of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, will take over as the new chief electoral officer on 1 February.

"I have been working with Virginia during the course of this month to bring her up to speed on what's happening and I will of course be available to her in the background to offer any assistance that I can until we get through the election," said Mr Shields.

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