Belfast Telegraph

South Belfast electorate dragging their feet to the polls

By Bob Malcolm

South Belfast has so far had the lowest response in Northern Ireland to the call to register to vote.

Only 45.7% of the population in the electoral constituency of Belfast South have so far returned their forms for this year's electoral canvass.

That means that at this interim stage, only 42,244 of the 93,724 estimated eligible voters in the area have responded.

Across the province as a whole, almost 800,000 forms representing (56.5%) of the estimated eligible electorate have been completed and returned.

The highest responding area to date is North Antrim, with a 63.9% response rate.

The Electoral Office has extended the deadline to October 23 for the return of forms.

The new Electoral Register will be published on December 2.

Local UUP councillor, Bob Stoker, said: "There is a large transient population in south Belfast. Along the Lisburn Road, in the Holylands area, in Stranmillis. A lot of people are registering at home, and not where they live in Belfast. Many are only in south Belfast for a year or two."

He said there had also been a population shift out of Belfast due to boundary changes and redevelopment in the area. "There have been redevelopments in a number of places. In Blackstaff we have lost between 1,500 and 2,000 voters over the redevelopment there."

He continued: "I'm sure there is some voter apathy – some people are saying 'a plague on to all your houses'."

He laid blame for voter apathy at the feet of the Assembly as a whole and the Executive Department.

"They don't tackle everyday issues, like education or health care, those issues just seem to be getting tossed about with no real decision."

He said that the only way to get the politicians that people wanted was to join the electoral register.

"I'd encourage everyone to sign up. By not voting you're allowing people to basically govern by default and if you don't vote."

Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey said the Electoral Office had clear responsibilities in targeting areas where they saw a reduction in registrations.

"South Belfast is one of the consitiuencies that has some of the most deprived and affluent areas.

"The deprived areas are usually small, such as Taughmonagh, Finaghy, the Markets area, Donegall Pass and they need to be given due consideration.

"Voting is about ensuring people have their fundamental democratic rights, it's not just a nice thing to do."

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