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Eastwood's annoyance voters in NI not able to register online for poll

By Suzanne Breen

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has voiced his disappointment that Northern Ireland people will not be able to register to vote online in time for the forthcoming general election.

Whilst legislation to approve electronic registration was passed last December, the systems are not in place as yet.

The Electoral Office has said it hopes the system will be in place this autumn.

"It is very unfortunate that electronic registration will not be in place for this election," said Mr Eastwood.

"The legislation is obviously in place but the Electoral Office need to get it implemented."

In advance of last year's Assembly poll it emerged that over 60,000 people had been removed from the register here because they had not returned their forms, something now required by law.

In Britain, 90% of voter registrations are made online. But in Northern Ireland potential voters will have to continue to complete hard copy forms for the time being.

The deadline for registration for the general election on June 8 is May 22.

"This presents difficulties for all political parties trying to get people back on the register, so it is doubly disappointing that electronic registration is not yet in place yet," said Mr Eastwood.

"Almost all business is conducted on line now so this is presenting us with particular challenges in attempting to enhance the democratic process.

A spokesperson for the Government said it "remains committed to introducing online registration to Northern Ireland as soon as possible".

"However, it is important to ensure that the system is properly tested and robust, which will not be possible for the June 8 election," they added.

Former chief electoral officer Graham Shields said in January that the system could have been put in place in February, had it not been for the snap Assembly election.

Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott told the BBC he had met Northern Ireland Minister Kris Hopkins to move the issue forward.

"My understanding from a meeting we had some months ago was that it was broadly in place and most of the issues had been ironed and the difficulties resolved," he said.

"I'm not sure what the delays are because they have the software in place so it shouldn't be difficult to do. I thought it could have been implemented very quickly but for some reason it hasn't."

Other parties have also criticised the delay.

Meanwhile, DUP MP for East Antrim Sammy Wilson has urged unionists to ensure they are registered to vote in order to prevent "Sinn Fein winning by default".

McCallion tipped as SF candidate for Foyle

Sinn Fein is expected to announce Elisha McCallion as its Foyle candidate after a selection meeting tomorrow night.

The former mayor topped the poll in the March Assembly election with 9,000 first preference votes and was elected following the first count.

Sinn Fein declined to comment, but it is believed Ms McCallion’s name is the only one under consideration.

Taking the Westminster seat held by Mark Durkan since 2008 will be no mean task — in 2015 the SDLP veteran secured almost half of the total votes cast in Foyle.

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