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Three Northern Ireland seats may go in boundaries shake-up

Coalition plans to make “every vote count” would mean three Northern Ireland constituencies being wiped out in a massive shake-up of Parliamentary boundaries.

Every seat will have to be ripped up and redrawn under the Government’s ambitious political reform plans and maths would come before community ties and geography when the replacements are devised.

Ministers want every constituency to have 75,000 voters, with a margin either side of just 5%. Of Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies, only North Antrim currently comes anywhere close, with around 73,000 voters.

Belfast West has the fewest at 55,000, while East and South Antrim have around 56,000 each.

Based on last year’s electoral register, Northern Ireland would only be eligible for 15.3 seats, rounded down to 15.

Liz Benson, secretary to the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland, told a powerful committee examining the proposals that trying to make each one have the same amount of voters would mean every constituency had to be re-drawn.

She was giving evidence with counterparts from England, Scotland and Wales about the impact of the Parliamentary Reform Bill to a Commons committee.

MPs heard that “no-one likes change” so whether the number of seats goes up or down in an area, it will always spark complaints.

“In Northern Ireland, the building block for constituencies will

be the local government ward,” the committee was told.

“However, in order to achieve electoral parity it is likely that, in some cases, wards will be divided between constituencies.”

The plans have divided MPs with concerns that communities will be split as well as some rural constituencies becoming even larger geographically to ensure they have enough electors.

But supporters say it is unfair that some MPs need almost twice as many votes to get elected as others because their constituencies have many more registered voters.

Earlier this week the Bill passed its first hurdle in the Commons but it is expected to hit trouble further down the line. It must be approved within months if the referendum is to go ahead on the planned date of May 5, 2011.

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