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MP warns changes in Westminster seat boundaries will hit unionist voters

Published 09/09/2016

Nigel Dodds, DUP MP for Belfast North
Nigel Dodds, DUP MP for Belfast North

A leading Democratic Unionist has accused electoral chiefs of taking a machete to Northern Ireland's Westminster seats.

Nigel Dodds, the party's North Belfast MP, lashed out at proposals to cut the number of seats in the city from four to three and warned changes will have a detrimental effect on unionist representation.

Northern Ireland is to see its number of MPs fall from 18 to 17 at the next election.

Mr Dodds is likely to be one of the high-profile politicians in a dog-fight for electoral survival if the redrawn constituency boundaries go ahead as proposed.

And he warned voters to be under no illusion about the changes.

"It will drastically affect voters and will change the political make-up in Northern Ireland significantly," the DUP deputy leader and director of elections said.

The DUP claimed the new constituency maps are the biggest electoral shake-up since 1983.

As well as carving Belfast in to three Westminster seats for the east, north-west and south-west, they include redrawing and renaming constituencies seats outside the city, provisionally called Dalriada, Glenshane, North Tyrone, Upper Bann and Blackwater, West Antrim and West Down.

Another eight would retain their names - East Antrim, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Foyle, Newry and Armagh, North Down, South Antrim, South Down, and Strangford - but see slight changes to boundaries.

Mr Dodds said: "We need to make sure everyone is fairly represented. This is something no elected representative would disagree with.

"However, these boundary commission proposals will have a detrimental effect on unionist representation. The proposals do not take into consideration the natural hinterlands of many major cities and towns in Northern Ireland. That is something which is of particularly concern as these shape communities."

The review is part of a wider plan to reduce MP numbers from 650 to 600 by the time of the next election in May 2020.

The public will be given a chance to air their views on the changes before any revisions are published in early 2018 with the final proposals not due until October 2018.

Four public hearings are planned during October in Ballymena, Omagh, Belfast and Portadown to let voters have their say.

Mr Dodds urged voters to have their say.

" This fight is now about making sure their voice is heard and that they have strong representation when it comes to health, education and jobs - the bread and butter issues that matter to many people across the province," he said.

Commissions for England and Wales are due to report on September 13 and the proposals for Scotland are due mid-October.

A media consortium comprising the BBC, ITV News, Sky News and the Press Association has commissioned Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher of the Elections Centre at Plymouth University to calculate a set of detailed "official" notional results showing how the new parliamentary constituencies might have behaved if they had been in place at the 2015 general election.

These calculations, which can only be completed once the final proposals are known, will form the baseline for reporting 2020 general election results and statistics.

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