26-County election date announced

The local and European elections will be held on June 11th next year, the Irish Minister for the Environment said yesterday.

Mr Cullen said the poll, which will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on a Friday, will be the first to be carried out entirely on the electronic voting system.

With Fianna Fail under pressure in a string of opinion polls, the elections are already being seen as a crucial test for the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern.

Sinn Féin will be hoping to capitalise on their increased Dail presence and recent success in the North.

The elections will also be seen as a judgment on the efforts of the Fine Gael leader, Mr Enda Kenny, to revitalise his party after its disastrous general election result.

It will be the first election for Labour under the leadership of Mr Pat Rabbitte.

Selection conventions are already under way, and all parties will use the campaign for the 289 local constituencies and four European constituencies to prepare the ground for the next general election.

Mr Cullen encouraged people to register to vote and said the new register of electors would be published on February 1st, 2004.

He identified May 24th as the deadline for applications to the supplementary register of electors. Applications should be made to the county council or city council where an applicant is resident.

Sinn Féin candidate for the North West EU constituency, Pearse Doherty said that a Saturday election would have been preferable in order to accommodate students and young people who work away from home, and urged that the decision be reconsidered.

``This is simply evidence that Fianna Fail are afraid to allow young voters the opportunity to pass judgment of the performance of the government parties in Europe and in local council chambers. The fact that it is proposed that polling stations will close at 9pm rather than 10pm, as was the case in the general election, compounds these suspicions.''

He also said it was ``unfortunate'' that the elections would be held during the Leaving Certificate examinations.

``However, the least that we should expect would be that young voters and those working away from home would be accommodated by a Saturday election.''

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