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Dismay over City Hall vote decision

By David Gordon

A top electoral official has voiced disappointment that Belfast City Hall will not be available for General Election count night.

The City Council has turned down an official request for its showpiece building and overnight counting will instead take place at the King's Hall.

Chief Electoral Officer Douglas Bain said he believed an opportunity had been missed to promote Belfast and its famous landmark.

“It would have been free publicity for the city,” he added.

Unlike in previous General Elections, Northern Ireland will not be waiting this year until the morning after polling day for vote counting to begin. The first results are expected to be declared here by early morning.

A date for the General Election has yet to be set, but May 6 is being tipped as the most likely choice.

Across the water, polls are narrowing between Labour and the Conservatives for what could be the tightest race since 1992.

Belfast City Council's decision not allow use of the City Hall as a count centre was taken by a committee last November.

Its minutes record that permission had been granted for more than 40 groups to use the building during April and May 2010.

Members were advised that as little as three weeks' warning of a General Election date would be given and that it would “not reflect well on the council” if charitable and other functions had to be cancelled at short notice.

The Electoral Office request related to counts for the South Belfast and West Belfast seats.

The council minutes also state: “The committee accepted that the emphasis placed on the usage of the City Hall had changed considerably and that its efforts to make the building available to a wider range of groups had inevitably led to increased usage with the result that it would not be possible to accede to the request to hold the two 2010 Westminster election counts in the City Hall.”

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