South Belfast residents’ organisations are mounting a last ditch fight to stop the Westminster constituency disappearing.
The Boundary Commission recently announced that it plans to do away with the South Belfast constituency and have the district split between east and west Belfast.
The deadline for submissions is today, Thursday, December 1, and local community representatives fear that many local residents are unaware of the plan.
“We have been talking to people and they’re just not aware of what’s happening,” said Billy Dickson, a director on the South Belfast Partnership board which has been raising awareness of the issue.
At present the seat is held by SDLP leader Alisdair McDonnell. A party spokesman was unwilling to go on the record about its position on the boundary move at the time of the going to press but said it was “paying close attention” to the issue.
Mr Dickson, who is also chair of the Blackstaff Community Development Association, said: “At our last meeting everyone was depressed over it. We feel that we’re being sacrificed here. We feel that it’s a carve-up between Sinn Fein and the DUP. We can’t understand why there hasn’t been outrage over this. They should keep the four existing constituencies and extend the boundaries outwards.”
In its submissionto the Boundary Commission, the Blackstaff group says that many residents in the Blackstaff and Laganbank wards have become disillusioned with politicians.
“Protestants and Unionists in particular feel alienated. For these wards to become submerged in a Sinn Fein controlled Belfast South West Constituency will only alienate them further.
“For those who are involved, we see that within the new broader Belfast South West constituency, we would become a minority voice, and that will make it even more difficult to get people to vote at elections, get involved in the political process or |community work.”
The group says the proposal would create “a Belfast South East constituency and a Belfast South West constituency, without taking any serious account of local identities, natural and made barriers like the Motorway and the Westlink. These barriers will continue to exist regardless of what is decided.”
The submission claims there is a lack of transparency in the consultation process and adds: “BCDA will join with other community organizations in South Belfast to resist (in our view) the discriminatory proposals to carve up South Belfast, or if these proposals are thrust upon us without giving us the opportunity to discuss them publicly, we will consider what further action we can take.”
“We agree with the South Belfast Partnership Board which stated, ‘South Belfast has a unique identity in itself that risks being damaged by the proposals. It is felt that the proposals could weaken the collective voice and representation of communities in South Belfast, which will in turn have implications for service delivery and attracting inward investment'.