Belfast Telegraph

Impact of polling on schools a ‘practical fact of life’, says Virginia McVea

Understanding: Virginia McVea
Understanding: Virginia McVea
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Northern Ireland's chief electoral officer has said she fully understands the disruption next month's general election may have on schools during the busy pre-Christmas period.

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Many schools here face having to reschedule Nativity plays and other festive events to facilitate the December 12 vote.

Primary schools make up the majority of the 1,463 polling stations here alongside church halls and public buildings.

Some second-level institutions will also be forced to close for the day when voters head to the polls.

While it may be an inconvenience, by law schools can be forced to act as polling stations.

Virginia McVea said she is aware the poll will impact on schools but insists that electoral events cannot take place without them.

"Under legislation, we can use primary schools as polling booths and, practically speaking, we need to as they constitute nearly four-fifths of our facilities," she said.

"We couldn't hold elections without the various community centres and faith-based buildings as well.

"This is a practical fact of life within communities that schools are usually a focal point and an accessible building. We are hoping that lots of Nativity plays will be cleared by December 12 and we are very grateful to people for their patience.

"We are happy to chat to any parents or principals who need any more information on that.

"We know it's a very busy and usually a very nice time of year in primary schools, but we're hoping that everyone will be able to work around the date."

With just six weeks until voters go to the polls, Ms McVea says preparations for a possible election have been continuing for some time.

"In less than three years, we have had eight electoral events and the changing context has been that you have to be in a general state of 'election-readiness' as opposed to operating in the much more long-term plans we used to.

"Clearly there has been a discussion over the last number of weeks in terms of whether an election would happen or not so we have had some lead-in time.

"It's certainly good to have clarity [on the polling date] so we can be clear with the public because we were contingency planning.

"We have been checking in with count centres to see if they were generally available as they are crucial to the running of elections.

"The difficulty is with the relatively short lead-in time and the number of events that occur at this time of year."

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