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MP’s fury as seat to disappear

-Malone to join West Belfast -Two constituencies vanish -Ballymena exits North Antrim

By Liam Clarke and Adrian Rutherford

Plans to reshape Northern Ireland’s electoral boundaries have come under fire from an MP whose seat is expected to disappear under the proposals.

The region will send two fewer MPs to Westminster at future parliamentary elections with many constituencies radically altered.

There will be one less constituency in Belfast while five western constituencies will reduce to four.

Ballymena will no longer be part of North Antrim, and East Londonderry and West Tyrone will disappear off the face of the map under the proposals.

It is part of a UK exercise to even out the size of constituencies to around 72,810 voters each.

However, the plans have been strongly criticised by SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell, whose South Belfast seat will be shared with West Belfast and East Belfast to become South-West Belfast and South-East Belfast.

Mr McDonnell said the move “dilutes Belfast's authority”.

“I believe you weaken Belfast when you reduce it from four seats to three,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“There is obviously a personal consequence for me because the area I have worked in and built my vote over the last 30 years is now shredded in three directions.”

Paul Maskey, the Sinn Fein sitting MP in West Belfast, looks certain to hold the new seat, which will have a strong influx of Sinn Fein votes.

Mr McDonnell conceded the changes “make it difficult” for him to be re-elected.

He added: “I think Belfast is entitled to four seats, but they have squeezed Belfast, making it smaller and less significant.”

North Belfast is now a key battleground where Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly is challenging the DUP Nigel Dodds, but under the new boundaries it looks like a safe DUP seat as it gains about 4,000 new unionist votes.

They come mainly from Shankill and Woodvale, loyalist areas once tied to West Belfast. More will come from the old East Belfast.

The new South East Belfast seat looks marginally safer for Naomi Long of Alliance than her old East Belfast seat.

Some of her husband Michael’s support areas in Castlereagh are brought in, but the DUP will fight her hard for it.

The most likely unionist loser is Gregory Campbell of the DUP, whose East Londonderry seat is absorbed into a new seat called Glenshane.

It loses his stronghold of Coleraine to North Antrim and that is replaced by the solid Sinn Fein territory of Magherafelt and the majority nationalist town of Limavady. Dungiven is the other major town in the constituency.

Sinn Fein thinks the communal arithmetic gives it this seat, but the DUP is not conceding yet.

As Coleraine slides south into North Antrim, its former stronghold Ballymena disappears into the new constituency of Mid Antrim alongside most of the old East Antrim.

Mr Campbell could follow his Coleraine voters and fight North Antrim, but that would be at the expense of Ian Paisley junior who holds the seat.

A new constituency of Mid Tyrone absorbs most of Pat Doherty’s West Tyrone seat and large parts of Martin McGuinness’s Mid Ulster seat, but the electoral balance does not change.

Sinn Fein MP for West Tyrone Pat Doherty said the party would use this period for “look at and study” the proposals.

“We will have to examine all of this. The consultation period has been laid out that includes the public hearings and we will avail of all that,” he said.

Bill White, who heads the polling organisation LucidTalk, believes that the likely overall |losers would be the UUP and SDLP.

They often take the last Assembly seats in the current constituencies and if the number of seats falls they are likely to suffer.

Alliance, Sinn Fein and the DUP are likely to hold their own.

The new proposals are at present out to consultation and could change again.

They will face objections that, as Tom Elliott of the UUP put it, “many market towns are cut off from the rural hinterlands and local communities split up”.

Across the UK, the number of MPs will be cut from 600 |to around 550, with Northern |Ireland losing two representatives.

Since six MLAs are elected per constituency, the knock-on effect would be to cut the numbers of seats at Stormont from the |present 108 to 96 at the next election.

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