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Constituency plans illogical, unpopular and deeply damaging for the entire region

By Nigel Dodds

Published 05/10/2016

The provisional recommendations of the Boundary Commission to redraw Northern Ireland's constituency boundaries have the potential to hinder development, seek fundamental change to the electoral map and are bereft of common sense.

The boundaries of Northern Ireland's parliamentary constituencies are reviewed to ensure that each has a broadly equal number of constituents, and this year that process has also had to take into account a reduction in the number of seats.

This should not be seen as an issue of concern only to politicians and political parties.

It is of real importance when it comes to the impact on the lives of ordinary people, whether it's in the provision of healthcare, or, for example, the impact on the local economy, transport and infrastructure development.

It is especially important in Northern Ireland, where our parliamentary boundaries are also used as Assembly constituencies.

While the aspiration of more equal constituencies is entirely laudable, the provisional recommendations are deeply damaging to the status of Belfast as a capital city, and divide many of our key provincial towns in two or three.

It is clear to me that the provisional recommendations fall far short of what should have been expected and are unnecessarily radical.

This is a view that is shared by many at local government level and in other political parties who will see the creation of entirely new and strange constituencies as an unwelcome development. It is hard to find anyone who believes they are a sensible approach, apart from a few who seek political advantage.

In the next few weeks the public will have the opportunity to make representations to the commission at public meetings and through written responses. I hope people will take the opportunity to do so.

In the past, the Boundary Commission, having considered the views of the public and political parties, has fundamentally reshaped the proposals. I hope that this will again be the case.

The commission has chosen to create 17 seats by reducing the number of seats in Belfast from four to three, causing the radical restructuring of other seats.

All of this is unnecessary and, indeed, is a primary error. It was proposed and rejected previously for very good reason.

These proposals represent the most fundamental shake-up of constituency boundaries in Northern Ireland since the early 1980s.

In reviews since, the Boundary Commission has wisely adopted a minimalist approach, even when the number of seats has changed. This approach is in stark contrast.

The importance of strong cities to the development of an economy is well known. It is important to ensure that Belfast is not shrunk to unnatural and limiting borders

It is quite possible to devise a four-seat Belfast to take in many areas which naturally look to the city. The idea of a three-seat Belfast contracts the city beyond its true boundaries.

The four-seat model may require an extension into areas not previously incorporated into Belfast seats. However, it would create minimal disruption.

The provisional recommendations also unnecessarily wreak havoc on towns such as Ballymena, Lisburn and Portadown and create a wholly unnatural West Down seat, which would run from Portadown to near Carryduff.

The proposals curiously situate the core town in many constituencies to the periphery rather than building on well-established centres.

This could have been easily avoided if the commission accepted the pragmatic wisdom of a four-seat Belfast solution.

We will shortly publish our proposals for Northern Ireland, and I hope that these will commend themselves as sensible changes from the present arrangements.

The commission should emulate some of its predecessors and approach the revised proposals with an open mind. The final recommendations will still need to command a majority in Parliament before they are implemented.

There is reason to doubt that proposals which are manifestly deficient in Great Britain or Northern Ireland would command such support.

Nigel Dodds is DUP MP for North Belfast

Belfast Telegraph

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