Votes drive as N Ireland polls open
10/06/2004 - 07:35:16

Northern Ireland’s politicians today embarked on a frantic effort to get people out to vote as polling stations opened for the European Parliament elections.

Seven candidates are vying for the province’s three European Parliament seats.

However, this is the first European Election where Democratic Unionist leader the Reverend Ian Paisley and former nationalist SDLP leader John Hume will not be running.

The DUP’s Jim Allister, who has replaced the Reverend Paisley, was among the early risers who cast their vote when polling stations opened at 7am.

The barrister voted in his polling station at his local primary school in Kells, Co Antrim.

SDLP candidate Martin Morgan was due to vote in north Belfast, while Sinn Féin’s Bairbre de Brun was expected to cast her vote alongside her party leader Gerry Adams in west Belfast.

Other candidates include Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson, the Socialist Environmental Alliance’s Eamonn McCann, Lindsay Whitcroft of the Green Party, and independent John Gilliland.

It is the second election to take place under Northern Ireland’s system of rolling registration which requires voters to register each year.

Sinn Féin has been highly critical of the system, claiming it has shredded the electoral register in working class areas and disenfranchised around 211,000 people.

Voters in the North were today expected to produce photographic identification at polling stations in the form of a special electoral card, a passport, a driving licence or a senior citizen’s free travel pass.

As polling got under way, police called for a trouble-free election.

There was violence in Derry last November when police were attacked as they removed ballot boxes for the Northern Ireland Assembly at one polling station.

Chief Superintendent Richard Russell said: “People have a right to vote. It is the very essence of democracy.

“They have a right to be able to vote in peace and they have a right to expect that their votes will be safe. Police have a responsibility to protect those rights.”

Police are expected to be on duty at less than half of polling stations which open from 7am until 10pm.

The election result will not be known until Monday, when counting gets under way in Belfast’s King’s Hall.

Voting in the Irish Republic takes place on Friday for the European Parliament and also for local government elections and a referendum on Irish citizenship.

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