Northern Ireland news

New chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland sought as Graham Shields retires

The north's chief electoral officer Graham Shields will be stepping down at the end of this year. Picture by Arthur Allison

THE north's chief electoral officer Graham Shields is to retire at the end of this year.

The process of recruiting a successor for the former RUC officer has already begun, with applications for the five-year post closing last Friday. The successful candidate will be paid between £64,000-£78,300 a year.

Mr Shields, who had previously worked as the assistant chief electoral officer, was appointed in 2010, succeeding Douglas Bain.

Just over six months into his new job, however, the north's chief electoral officer experienced a baptism of fire during the 2011 assembly elections.

There was widespread anger at the slow count across the north's 18 constituencies, as less than a fifth of assembly seats were declared 24 hours after the polls had closed, while in Omagh count centre electoral staff were forced to use hairdryers on rain sodden ballot papers.

Mr Shields again faced criticism following 2014's European elections after ballots took more than three days to count. At the time he said that electronic counting was the "only way forward". But more than two years on from what DUP MP Nigel Dodds labelled a "travesty", there are currently no plans to introduce electronic counting in the north's elections.

Mr Shields told The Irish News that it had been a "real privilege" to serve as chief electoral officer.

"I am proud to have led the staff of the Electoral Office who provide a first class service for the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

"I still have plenty to do before I complete my term of office and, amongst other things, I look forward to introducing a new online electoral registration system at the end of this year."

According to the recent job ad, his successor must have "good judgment, resilience, sensitivity and a track record of achievement at board or senior executive level in the private or public sector".

"Candidates for this post must have experience of transformational change of a complex organisation and must be able to command the confidence of all sides of the community in Northern Ireland," the advert said.

The new chief electoral officer will take up their post in January.

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