‘800%’ rise in proxy votes in ‘Durkan’s constituency’

The first ballot papers being sorted at the election count at Foyle Arena Derry last year.
The first ballot papers being sorted at the election count at Foyle Arena Derry last year.

An alleged ‘800 per cent’ rise in the number of proxy votes placed in ‘Durkan’s constituency’ between 2010 and 2017 has been described as ‘almost unbelievable’ by former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) member Ken Maginnis.

The Tyrone unionist, who resigned from the UUP six years ago, is only the latest in a string of figures to have complained over a marked increase in the entirely legitimate practice of proxy voting in Foyle over recent election cycles.

He raised the matter in the British House of Lords, where he now takes the title, Lord Maginnins of Drumglass, as the first anniversary of Elisha McCallion’s seismic electoral victory for Sinn Féin in Foyle fast approached.

Speaking in Westminster’s upper house he said: “It astonishes me to hear Ministers lamenting that we do not have nationalists in Parliament.

“We did have Mark Durkan, Margaret Ritchie and Alasdair McDonnell, but they lost their seats because of cheating by Sinn Féin. I have never said that publicly before; I have hinted at it.

“That the number of proxy votes in Durkan’s constituency increased by 800 per cent between 2010 and 2017 is almost unbelievable.

“When I asked what was being done, what did the Chief Electoral Officer do? She said that we would eventually get a report.

“We all know that when the election took place in 2017, we got a one-and-a-half page report to the Secretary of State that was placed in the library.

“It tells us absolutely nothing: it does not indicate how many times the PSNI has been asked to investigate this illegal voting.

“Are we afraid? Have successive Governments been afraid to face up to the reality that Sinn Féin abused the system, and did so to the extent that it does not matter whether you are a unionist or a nationalist?”

The former MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone is the most recent in a series of complainants who have bemoaned the use of proxy votes by members of the electorate in Derry and other largely nationalist areas.

Last November DUP MP Gregory Campbell complained that “between the General Elections in 2015 and 2017 in Foyle there was a near 300 per cent rise in the number of proxy votes with nearly a thousand extra votes cast in this way”.

SDLP MLA Mark H. Durkan also expressed concern over the use of proxy votes in Foyle in the aftermath of the election last year.

The complaints were raised when Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion became the first republican elected in Derry since Eóin MacNeill was returned to the First Dáil almost a century ago.

Sinn Féin have rejected their opponents’ criticisms and have registered their own concerns over tens of thousands of voters being struck off the electoral register.

The party regularly urges electors entitled to postal or proxy votes to register ahead of forthcoming elections such as the looming Westminster by-election in West Tyrone.

After the election last June the Chief Electoral Officer for the North, Virginia McVea, told this paper she was aware of just 12 official complaints - 0.017 per cent of the electorate - from disgruntled Foyle electors who claimed their ballot papers weren’t available.

‘Absent votes’ were also raised at a meeting between Mrs. McVea and the Northern Ireland Assembly Parties’ Panel not long after the poll.

According to the minutes of that meeting, “the CEO acknowledged that the issue of absent vote forms had featured prominently in the press since the General Election but that the representation of ‘vote stealing’ in the media has been incorrect.

“She stated that fewer than 20 tendered ballot papers (‘pink slips’) had been issued across Northern Ireland, and that 12 of these were in Foyle. The police had been notified about these.

“She recognised that proxy vote numbers have increased and that by law there is no threshold for this, but that it is noteworthy.

“The CEO stated that it is plausible that people who are not inclined to go out and vote are being registered for proxy.”