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Sinn Fein's claim UK Government planning to suppress voters rights branded 'fake news'

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Michelle O'Neill casts her vote in the 2019 Westminster election. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Michelle O'Neill casts her vote in the 2019 Westminster election. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Michelle O'Neill casts her vote in the 2019 Westminster election. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

A claim by Sinn Fein that the UK Government is attempting to suppress voters rights through an electoral register canvass has been branded "fake news".

UUP MLA Robbie Butler said the party's claims were worthy of former US President Donald Trump.

In a video posted on the party's social media earlier this week, Sinn Fein accused the UK Government of planning a "mass purge of voters" in a "blatant attempt to suppress the voice of citizens in next year’s historic assembly election".

"The British Government are planning to suppress the democratic rights of citizens," the video said.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has rejected the claims, saying registering to vote is a fundamental part of the democratic process.

It comes after Northern Ireland's Electoral Office announced plans to carry out a review of the electoral register this summer.

Details will be sent to every house in Northern Ireland and people will be able to register online or via a paper form.

Anyone who does not return their form on time will be removed from the register.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said she would be seeking an urgent meeting with Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to discuss the issue.

She said the plans were "very concerning as it could lead to tens of thousands of people losing their vote."

The party's West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said the plan was a "purge of voters" and was particularly unacceptable given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“This could result in votes being taken away from many thousands of people, with a disproportionate impact on those from working-class communities" Mr Maskey said.

“Next year’s Assembly election will be defining for the future of our island, citizens should be encouraged to participate in this election and not removed from the register."

He also pointed out that the previous canvass in 2013 resulted in 60,000 people being removed from the electoral register.

The MP promised the party would continue to challenge the proposal and representatives have already met with Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea to express their concerns.

In response to the social media video the NIO dismissed Sinn Fein's claims, saying they were "not true".

"Canvass is not about removing people, but ensuring the register is as accurate as possible" a spokesperson said.

"Registering to vote is fundamental to the democratic process & people cannot remain on the NI register indefinitely without refreshing their registration."

The Electoral Office said the canvass was needed to ensure the "accuracy and completeness" of the register.

It is a legally required part of the electoral process, it had been due to take place last year but was delayed as a result of the pandemic.

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UUP MLA Robbie Butler

UUP MLA Robbie Butler

UUP MLA Robbie Butler

Mr Butler described the claims as a "classic example of fake news".

“The most basic democratic principles are that elections are free and fair. Underpinning this is the notion that the electoral roll itself is as accurate and up to date as possible," the Lagan Valley MLA said.

"People die, they move house, they change their names, they leave Northern Ireland, other people arrive and over time the register will inevitably become less accurate and need to be updated.

Referencing President Trump he said, "Here we have Sinn Fein seeking to undermine our own democratic process with inflammatory language, and that is utterly shameful from a leading party of government".

Belfast Telegraph


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