Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland constituency boundary changes 'disruptive', election expert warns

Follow links below to read all submissions to consultation

By Jonathan Bell

Changes to Northern Ireland constituency boundaries will be disruptive, an elections expert has said.

Changes to Northern Ireland election constituency boundaries have once again been put out for consultation. This time to allow the public to read and have their say on the responses of the first phase of the proposals.

Under the plan, the number of seats in Northern Ireland will fall from 18 to 17 as part of a UK-wide shake-up to reduce House of Commons numbers from 650 to 600.

Belfast will lose an MP, with only East Belfast remaining largely intact. The three North, South and West Belfast constituencies will be redrawn to form two new electoral areas - Belfast North West and Belfast South West. Outside the city, eight constituencies will continue with minimal changes. But the names of five others disappear - Lagan Valley, North Antrim, West Tyrone, Mid Ulster and East Londonderry.

Research on the changes has suggested Sinn Fein will be the big winners on the proposal.

The DUP has said it objects to the reduction in numbers suggesting it could weaken parliament's ability to scrutinise the executive arm of government. In its submission to the Boundary Commission, the party said Northern Ireland had been treated as a "blank canvas" saying that was a "huge mistake".

It said the proposals meant over 300,000 people would move to a "new and unfamiliar" area. It suggested focusing change in the west and border areas as that would affect around 40% fewer people.

The party described the proposal to reduce Belfast to three seats as "simply wrong" and not reflective of Belfast's population make-up.

"And the commission’s decision to do so has resulted in unacceptable boundaries throughout Northern Ireland," it added.

"The Commission has chosen the route that will create the greatest ramifications both in Belfast and across Northern Ireland."

Elections expert Nicholas Whyte, a visiting professor in the faculty of social science at Ulster University, said the changes would be disruptive to the ties between voter and representative and it would be likely Northern Ireland would lose another seat in the 2023 review.

He said the changes would impact on parties internal structures and "cause serious inconvenience to the democratic process".

A second consultation was launched on Tuesday lasting four weeks.

Eamonn McConville, Secretary to the Boundary Commission, said: "The secondary consultation stage will be an opportunity for the public to see and comment on the responses received by the Commission on its provisional proposals for the new 17 parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland. 

"The Commission is consulting later than anticipated this year but remains confident that we will meet our statutory deadline of reporting to Parliament with final recommendations in September 2018."

Read Alliance party submission here

Read DUP submission here

Read SDLP submission here

Read TUV submission here

Read UUP submission here

To have your say and read all the responses visit www.bcni2018.uk.

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