New Northern Ireland constituencies will favour nationalists, claims Empey
Redrawing Northern Ireland's parliamentary constituencies will "divide communities unnaturally", it has been claimed.
The Boundary Commission published a dramatic new design which would see our 18 constituencies reduced to 17 and many substantially changed.
It would see the number of MPs representing Belfast cut from four to three.
The Alliance Party has claimed "there appear to be some communities split unnaturally".
However, it has accepted a reduction of MPs for Belfast - with the present constituencies of south, west and north Belfast re-emerging in expanded form as north-west Belfast and south-west Belfast - as "inevitable".
"There is no justification for retaining four in the city," the Alliance Party has said.
"... but we will reserve judgment on the wider details while we consult with local party associations and other interested stakeholders."
Meanwhile, a veteran unionist criticised the proposals as "puzzling" and "peculiar".
Former Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said the Boundary Commission blueprint was "much more radical than anticipated".
And he said that his initial analysis pointed to the likelihood of increasing party pacts taking place in future elections.
The former acting First Minister also challenged commissioners to show how they had given due attention to natural "local ties" in some of their decisions.
"We have not carried out any detailed analysis yet, but we have begun to look at these proposals," he said.
"It is puzzling that these proposals are much more radical than expected given that there were less changes the last time when the speculation was that the province would lose two seats.
"At first gIance I would agree this gives rise to the prospect of more pacts between the unionist parties. On the surface it would appear the proposed new constituencies and re-worked boundaries are likely to favour nationalists.
"The commissioners are required to take into account geography, community identification and local ties and existing boundaries, but I find that difficult to see in some of these proposals."
Sir Reg said that Coleraine, Ballymena and Lisburn have all been moved from their natural hinterlands under the Boundary Commission blueprint.
"And in north Belfast the whole of Rathcoole is being linked now with Larne by being moved into East Antrim.
"And then there is Ballybeen, which in local government terms is linked with Lisburn and Castlereagh, but for Westminster and the Assembly is now linked to North Down. These are peculiar choices.
"My initial conclusion is that areas are being linked which have no natural connection or historic linkage. It is certainly not what we were expecting."
The Commissions' proposals - part of a nationwide exercise - are designed to ensure that each constituency has an electorate of between 71,031 and 78,507 and it used the local government wards of the 11 councils as its 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, with an initial 12-week period for responses, ending on November 28. Revised proposals would then come next year.
The new constituencies are designed to be in place in time for the next expected General Election in 2020 and would be used for the Assembly poll a year later.