SINN Féin has labelled the DUP’s calls for the closure of Greencastle’s polling station as ‘cheap political opportunism’.
DUP MLA Tom Buchanan made the call after a 59-year-old man from the area was charged with allegedly possessing a firearm with criminal intent inside the polling station at Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School on the day of the West Tyrone by-election on May 3.
Referring to threatening comments the accused allegedly made in front of polling centre staff, Mr Buchanan said, “I have had DUP voters indicate that they are no longer comfortable voting in that polling station and I would not be prepared to ask any of my supporters to act as polling agents at that polling station in the future.
“The electoral office need to review the matter and ultimately seek a new polling station location.
“We also need a complete review of security at polling stations,” he said.
The Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea last week met with unions to discuss concerns over the safety of staff and the public.
She also said she would meet the PSNI to discuss security in future elections.
In 2014 Ms McVea’s predecessor made the decision to end the use of Howard Primary School in Moygashel as a polling station.
It came after a group of 30 to 40 loyalists, some with their faces covered, staged a union flag protest outside the school during the local government election on May 22 2014.
Sinn Féin posters were cut down outside the school, while some protesters ran onto the school grounds and had to be removed by the PSNI.
A Sinn Féin election worker was also allegedly threatened with a knife.
A man was later convicted of causing criminal damage and possessing a blade in a public place.
The decision to move polling to Dungannon Leisure Centre and Roan St Patrick’s PS in Eglish was strongly opposed by the DUP and the UUP.
Reacting to the calls to close Greencastle polling station, Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer said, “This was undoubtedly a frightening incident for the Electoral Office staff and polling agents alike.
“However, it has been confirmed by the PSNI that there was no paramilitary, nor wider, involvement.
“There has never been a previous incident of this nature at this polling station and there was no disruption to voting on the day nor was there, or ever has there been, any impediment to anyone casting their vote at this polling station.”
The MLA continued, “It is ironic therefore that the DUP are attempting to use this one isolated incident to attempt to get the Greencastle polling station closed when the same party fought tooth and nail to keep the polling station in Moygashel open despite the fact that many
“Nationalist voters had been intimidated from voting by a large crowd of hostile flag protesters outside that polling station on election day during the 2014 election.”