Council demands assurances from NIO over Derry electoral jobs

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Derry City and Strabane District Council has written to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) demanding any forthcoming reform of the local electoral service must be citzen-focused and promote greater voter participation.

The council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee agreed on Tuesday to write to the NIO over controversial plans to radically overhaul the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland (EONI).

The proposed reform sparked considerable controversy over the past year with members of the NIPSA trade union taking strike action in protest at the changes, which could see some electoral offices close. And in October NIPSA official Dooley Harte warned local democracy could be adversely impacted by the reform.

Outgoing Chief Electoral Officer, Graham Shields, told the committee in November, however, that the reform was necessary on grounds of sustainability.

Having considered the arguments, the committee has now agreed to write to the NIO expressing its own concerns and asking for assurances over a number of aspects of the proposed shake-up.

The potential for job losses is one of the principal concerns.

In its letter of response to an NIO consultation, which must be delivered by Monday, the committee warned: “The Council would have serious concerns regarding any potential loss of jobs within the Derry City and Strabane District Council area arising out of the reform of electoral services.”

Members are also concerned that older people particularly may be left behind in the pursuit of a target of 90 per cent of all electoral registrations being completed online.

The Committee stated: “There is no information in terms of the identification of the missing 10 per cent and whether these voters will ever be effectively engaged.”

It added: “In the absence of a local office, dedicated advice or support will only be available by phone or online - this may not be the acceptable/preferred option for a number of constituents.”

In conclusion the committee declared: “Derry City and Strabane District Council sees electoral services as playing a key role in promoting democracy and voter participation.

“For this reason, reform must be citizen focused and meet the needs of local communities.”

It said any proposed changes must improve services.

“We are keen to explore enhancing local services and trust that this feedback will be considered as part of the consultation process.”