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Electoral chief warns on school closures

By Noel McAdam

Rolling closures of small Ulster schools will hit the polling station operation in future elections, Northern Ireland's Chief Electoral Officer warned today.

Douglas Bain has written to the Education Boards in a bid to assess the impact of potentially dozens of school shutdowns and amalgamations, with often only local GAA or Orange halls as alternatives.

With speculation continuing over a snap General Election - informed sources suggest Prime Minister Gordon Brown will finally decide by next week - Mr Bain has also written to 4,000 temporary workers who staff the polling stations to make sure they will be available.

And he confirmed that, whenever the General Election comes, counting will start immediately after the polls close at 10pm.

Mr Bain told the Belfast Telegraph: "Next year I want to carry out a complete review of all polling stations across Northern Ireland.

"The schools closures programme could hit polling stations. That is going to be a real issue for us and I have written to the Education and Library Boards about their plans for that."

Mr Bain sounded his warning as a major initiative to ensure minority groups are able to vote - electoral registration awareness week - was launched at Stormont.

The campaign, unique in the UK, was aimed in the first instance at encouraging people with disabilities to register.

"There are no figures but we believed people with disabilities are under-represented on the register," Mr Bain said.

"The launch of this special week is a first for Northern Ireland and next time the focus could be on ethnic minorities," he told a reception in the Long Gallery.

Now that annual registration has been abandoned Mr Bain also wants to encourage more young people to register, perhaps with the incentive of an identity-style card.

See pages 4 and 11

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