Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Let this just be start of shake-up

This newspaper has long argued for a streamlining of the administration of Northern Ireland, believing that it is over-governed with its raft of MPs, MLAs and 26 councils.

The proposed boundary changes published today will certainly cut the number of representatives at both Westminster and Stormont, bringing the number of MPs down two to 16 and decreasing MLAs from 108 to 96. It is not a huge change, but nevertheless one in the right direction.

Of greater interest to the parties will be how the changed demographics of the new constituencies will influence their fortunes. For example, Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly, having made significant inroads into the North Belfast Westminster majority of the DUP's Nigel Dodds over a number of years, will see all his work go to naught if the Shankill area is incorporated into the new constituency. And the residents of many leafy suburbs in south Belfast will suddenly see themselves transported, at least politically, into the Sinn Fein stronghold of west Belfast, something of a culture shock.

The smaller parties, particularly the SDLP and Ulster Unionists, may be most concerned by the boundary changes as they could become even more marginalised and could lose representation in a reduced Assembly. The impetus for change has come from Westminster where English MPs feel representatives from the devolved regions have an unfair advantage, being able to vote on issues affecting England, while MPs there cannot vote on devolved matters.

With a national mood in favour of streamlining and efficiency, it is now time for our administration to show its willingness to tackle difficult issues by pressing ahead with the long-promised Reform of Public Administration, slashing the number of councils. With powers devolved to Stormont, there is now less need for such a huge tier of local government and the long-term financial savings would be very significant, helping to mitigate some of the worst of the public spending cuts. It is a task that should be started immediately, but will politicians willingly vote other politicians out of a job?

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