The decision not to use Newbuildings Community Centre as a polling station at next month’s election has been severely criticised by the chairman of the centre’s board of management.
Chief electoral officer Graham Shields has switched the local polling station back to Newbuildings Primary School after complaints about loyalist flags in the car park of the community centre, when it was used as a polling station for the first time in last year’s general election.
But the move has been criticised by Gordon Moore, who said he first learned that the decision had been taken due to Unionist flags flying in the car park was when he was contacted by members of the press today, Thursday, April 14 - almost a year after the Westminster election.
“The Board took the decision to offer the centre as a trial to see if it would work,” he said.
“We were not promoting the centre as a full-time station; we were offering it as an alternative.
“Obviously it has not worked and that is fine, but what is hurtful is we did not get a chance to put our side of the story. For that reason I feel aggrieved.
“I have been told the decision to move the polling station back to the primary school was about flags.
“The election took place during the marching season, and in the village flags were flying throughout the area from Victoria Road right along Duncastle Road.
“The whole village had flags up.
“I went to the Community Centre on May 5 at midday.
“There was no evidence of any flags in the building, on the building or anywhere in the car park. If there had been then they were taken down. Anyone coming to the village to vote that day would have had to walk past the flags and bunting on the street, so to say people felt intimidated by flags in the car park is a lame excuse.
“The only time I knew anything about this was when I was asked for a response today. It discredits the neutrality of the centre by saying people felt unsafe and it is grossly unfair of the Council to take this decision without speaking to us. Newbuildings Community Centre works tirelessly across the community and we welcome anyone of any denomination into the centre to enjoy and avail of the activities.
Treasurer David Ramsey, said there was a perception of an attempt to try and ‘sectarianise’ Newbuildings.
“The centre is completely cross-community,” he said.
“When we offered the community centre last year we lost a lot of money because we had to close the 3G pitch and all the other facilities that are offered, to accommodate the election.
“As far as people feeling intimidated goes, there were flags and bunting throughout Newbuildings that day and there is a feeling that there is an attempt to try and sectarianise Newbuildings to move the polling station closer to the city.”