Belfast Telegraph

Boundary reform: All change in Northern Ireland but balance of power will still lie with DUP

By Alex Kane

The first thing the parties look for are the threats and the opportunities thrown up by the proposed changes.

As it stands the DUP has eight seats, Sinn Fein four, SDLP three, UUP two and Lady Hermon one in North Down.

That leaves unionists with a reasonably healthy margin of 11-7 - and they won't want to see anything that looks like a dent to that majority. The UUP may have a problem. Fermanagh-South Tyrone is theirs on the back of an election pact in 2015 and it will not be held without that pact.

The party presently holds South Antrim with a slim majority of just 949, but under these proposals that majority could disappear to the DUP's advantage. The party desperately needs to recover from the unexpected setback in the Assembly election in May (their worst ever result in terms of votes) and will be determined to minimize damage. Belfast will be very interesting, with three new constituencies, Belfast East, Belfast North West and Belfast South West.

Alliance will be disappointed, as they had hoped that the proposals would have created a Belfast East South seat that might have given them a chance - there is a strong Alliance vote in the present East and South Belfast, accompanied by a diminishing UUP vote - if unionists hadn't reached the sort of pact they used to take down Naomi Long last year.

But the 'new' Belfast East looks reasonably comfortable for Gavin Robinson. Nigel Dodds has a reasonable chance in Belfast North West, but it could be tight. Meanwhile, it seems likely a nationalist would take Belfast South West, with the odds slightly in favour of the SDLP.

The proposed changes will be subject to considerable adjustment in the next few months, but I suspect that unionists will be attracted by an electoral pact to try and secure two of the three Belfast seats, and it's probable that the pact would include Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

Mike Nesbitt may now be leader of the Opposition at Stormont, but he also recognises the importance of Ulster Unionist seats over in Westminster. It seems likely that the eight constituencies that retain their names would, with the possible exception of South Antrim, return the same parties: two DUP, two SDLP, two UUP, one Sinn Fein and Lady Hermon.

The three Belfast seats will deliver one definite DUP (possibly two) and one definite SF (possibly two or else one SDLP).

The six newly-named constituencies would probably fall mostly to the DUP's advantage, but margins are uncomfortably tight under the existing recommendations. These proposals are more sweeping than any of the parties expected and I think the SDLP and Sinn Fein will be concerned.

Yet, as I say, there's an awful lot of talking to come and it's clear that there will be more shifting of wards between the 17 constituencies. But it seems likely that the overall balance will remain comfortably in favour of unionist seats.

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