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Election Office report deeply disturbing

2 May, 2005

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has described as "deeply disturbing" a report by the Electoral Office of an Equality Impact Assessment into the north's electoral register.

Mr. Adams said: "This report highlights the strong probability that canvassers working for the electoral office may have discriminated against households and individuals on the grounds of their religious belief and political opinion.  This is a deeply disturbing report which must raise serious doubts about the running of the electoral office and its conduct regarding the register.

Sinn Féin has already raised this matter with the Equality Commission. We intend pursuing this matter with the British and Irish governments. The Chief Electoral officer Dennis Stanley should resign and allow a new Chief Executive get to grips with the serious problems which exist within that organisation."

Mr. Adams said:

"Sinn Féin has consistently raised concerns about the introduction and implementation of the Electoral Fraud (NI) Act 2002.  The grounds put forward to justify the introduction of this Act were spurious and motivated by a desire to restrict a growing Sinn Féin mandate. 

The adverse outcome of this Act can be measured in the hundreds of thousands of eligible voters who have lost their democratic right to vote.

This much is acknowledged even by the Electoral office which concludes that: 'the annual canvass is no longer an effective or efficient way to maintain the Electoral Register for Northern Ireland,' and  that: 'There is evidence that the Register is falling year on year and will continue to do so unless specific action is taken to arrest the decline.'

The Electoral Office has found that young people are under-represented on the register and that the registration process has not been effective in deprived areas where the catholic community would be more adversely affected than protestant areas.

More significantly, the Electoral Office has admitted that some of its canvassers may have discriminated against households and individuals on the grounds of their religious belief and political opinion: "that the approach to the conduct of the annual canvass in preparing and maintaining the electoral register could have an adverse impact on some people on the grounds of their religious belief i.e. failing to canvass households whose occupants held different religious beliefs from those of the canvasser."

On Political opinion the Electoral Office concludes that "it  was possible that there could be discrimination by some electoral canvassers on the grounds of political opinion, i.e. failing to canvass electors who held different political opinions from those of the canvasser."

It is a matter of some considerable concern that a body overseeing Electoral Registration, some 35 years after the Civil Rights era which sought the right to vote, is itself complicit in preventing the full exercise of that fundamental right. 

The Electoral Office should take immediate and maximum action to comply with its Fair Employment and Section 75 equality responsibilities to ensure that discriminatory attitudes and practices are transparently addressed.

Sinn Féin has asked that the Equality Commission engage with the Electoral Office on this matter.

The Electoral Office should, in advance of any further registration drive in the autumn, publicise the recommendations it has made to the British government regarding changes to the Electoral Registration process.

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