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Boundary reform will see sweeping changes to political landscape in Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

Published 06/09/2016

Volunteers empty a ballot box in the counting centre at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast
Volunteers empty a ballot box in the counting centre at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast
The proposed changes to the Northern Ireland boundaries.
How Belfast could be represented.

Belfast is to lose one of its four MPs under proposals being published today that change Northern Ireland's political landscape.

Only East Belfast will be left standing largely intact, after new Westminster constituency boundaries come into effect.

The north, south and west Belfast constituencies will be redrawn to form two new electoral areas - North West Belfast and South West Belfast.

It creates the prospect of an election dogfight between high profile nationalist and unionist politicians in the north and west.

Outside the city, the names of four other existing constituencies - East Londonderry, North Antrim, Lagan Valley and Mid-Ulster - disappear under the plans being issued today for public consultation.

Instead, six new constituencies would be created, provisionally called Dalriada, Glenshane, North Tyrone, Upper Bann and Blackwater, West Antrim and West Down.

The Boundary Commission blueprint is the result of population changes and will see Northern Ireland left with 17 MPs as part of the UK wide shake-up to reduce numbers from 650 to 600 by the time of the next election in May 2020.

The Commissioners insist they did not take party political considerations into account and cannot predict if unionists or nationalists will emerge as winners or losers as a result of the changes.

Commissioner Bill Smith said they had taken into account any "local ties" which would be broken, as well as geographical features like mountains and rivers.

They had also attempted to produce "manageable shapes" to the constituencies and include at least one significant town in each of them.

For example, the new area of DALRIADA - which subsumes all of the present North Antrim - now takes in both Coleraine and Ballymoney, along with Castlerock, Portrush, Portstewart and Mountsandel, as well as Portglenone, Cullybackey and Glenravel.

GLENSHANE takes in East Londonderry, and the main towns would include Limavady, Maghera and Magherafelt, with a southern limit stretching to Lough Neagh, broadly in line with the county boundary.

NORTH TYRONE effectively replaces West Tyrone, but also includes 10 wards from the existing Mid Ulster area - among them Cookstown, Coagh, Stewartstown, Donaghmore and Pomery, with the main towns also including Strabane and Omagh.

Dungannon, however, which currently falls in the Mid-Ulster constituency, switches to the new UPPER BANN AND BLACKWATER - named after the two main rivers which run through it - and also includes parts of the present Newry and Armagh and Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituencies, as well as retaining Portadown.

WEST ANTRIM is another new constituency inserted between the present North Antrim and South Antrim, running from the Bann to Ballynure and from Slemish to Carnmoney, but also including the town of Ballymena.

And, finally, WEST DOWN is the result of significant changes to Lagan Valley, taking in parts of the existing Belfast South - Newtownbreda, Knockbracken, Beechill and Carryduff West - as well as Banbridge from South Down and Upper Bann, along with Magheralin, Donaghcloney, Waringstown, Bleary and Gilford.

The Commissions' proposals fall within the now-legal requirement that each constituency has an electorate of between 71,031 and 78,507. It used the wards of the 11 council areas as the building blocks.

The latest exercise comes three years after an earlier attempt was stymied by a fall-out in the previous Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government.

A lengthy period of consultation now follows, ending on November 28. Four public hearings are planned during October in Ballymena, Omagh, Belfast and Portadown, to let voters have their say.

The Commission will then issue revised proposals late next year, after which there is a further eight-week consultation before the final recommendations are made to the Secretary of State in 2018.

Belfast Telegraph

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