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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK

NI polling station rows

Northern Ireland's Chief Electoral Officer, Denis Stanley, says there will be an investigation into reports of voting irregularities at polling stations.

It follows confirmation that a polling station in County Tyrone stayed open after the official closing time of 2200 BST.

The presiding officer at St Mary's primary school in Strabane agreed that votes were cast up 2220 BST.

Sean Callaghan said that between 70 and 80 people were in the polling station at 2200 BST and he took the decision to allow them to vote after the designated closure time.

A similar report has also emerged suggesting a polling station in County Fermanagh was open beyond the closure time.

Meanwhile, a number of complaints have emerged from other polling stations where people, who were inside at 2200 BST in the queue to vote, were not allowed to.

SDLP councillor Pat McDonnell told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme that he had received a number of such complaints.

He said at both Eskra and Clanabogan polling stations people had been queuing since after 2100 BST on Thursday night but had not reached the polling booths by 2200 BST and were turned away.

" This might turn into the Florida of this election "
Pat McDonnell, SDLP

"These people are incensed," he said.

"This might turn into the Florida of this election"

A BBC reporter at the North Antrim count also confirmed that a number of similar complaints have been made about the polling stations in Loughgiel, Rasharkin, Ahoghill and Cloughmills.

However, Chief Electoral Officer Denis Stanley said the legislation was clear.

"Ten o'clock is the time, I'm afraid and there's nothing we can do about it.

"Anyone who has been issued with a ballot paper prior to 10pm is allowed to complete it and put it in the box.

"But no further ballot papers are to be issued after 10pm."

Mr Stanley also said that if anyone thought the result of any election had been affected by a polling station staying open beyond when it should they had recourse in law.

He said a complainant could take an electoral petition through the courts.

In a separate development in County Tyrone a Sinn Fein assembly member has alleged voters were delayed from voting by British Army checkpoints.

Barry McElduff said he thought this was to stop nationalists reaching the polling stations in time.

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