Magherafelt leisure centre ‘unlikely to be used’ in the event of a winter election

It is understood the Eikon Centre close to Lisburn, Co Antrim, is the preferred choice if an Assembly election is called next month.

Votes are counted at the Meadowbank Sports Arena after the Stormont Assembly election in 2022
Votes are counted at the Meadowbank Sports Arena after the Stormont Assembly election in 2022

A leisure centre in Co Londonderry which has been used as an election count centre is unlikely to be utilised in the event of a winter Stormont Assembly poll, the Electoral Office has confirmed.

The Meadowbank Sports Arena in Magherafelt has been used in recent Assembly, Westminster and European elections to count votes cast in constituencies in the west of Northern Ireland.

However election staff have been advised it is unlikely to be used if the Secretary of State calls a fresh poll, with the Eikon Centre on the outskirts of Lisburn, Co Antrim, being explored instead.

General Election 2019
Ballot boxes are opened during the count at the Meadowbank Sports Arena for the 2019 general election (Niall Carson/PA)

In a letter sent to workers, the Electoral Office of Northern Ireland said it is “unlikely to be used due to temperatures and issues in relation to heating given the energy crisis”.

It added: “An alternative venue being explored is the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn.”

The PA news agency understands that while Meadowbank has been used in recent elections, it was not the first choice, with the Eikon Centre being higher up the preference list.

With most elections taking place during the summer, it is often not available during May or June when major events such as the Balmoral Show take place there.

Politicians have in the past complained about cold temperatures at Meadowbank.

European Parliament election
Chief electoral officer Virginia McVea during the European Parliamentary elections count at the Meadowbank Sports Arena (Liam McBurney/PA)

Chief electoral officer Virginia McVea confirmed to PA that there are no plans to use Meadowbank in the event of a winter Assembly election.

“I have been writing to staff and those responsible for polling places across Northern Ireland as part of contingency planning in case an unscheduled election is called,” she said.

“Given the time of the year and issues around heating, the STV count and the availability potentially of other preferred venues that often are not available, we are not at present planning to use the Magherafelt sports arena.

“That said, I would congratulate the team there who always do a tremendous job during the elections and manage a great facility.”

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