Belfast Telegraph

Leaked electoral boundaries slammed by Sinn Fein


By Suzanne Breen

Significant changes to a plan to redraw electoral boundaries in Northern Ireland represents "gerrymandering to placate the DUP", Sinn Fein has claimed.

The Boundary Commission's previous proposals that would have seen Belfast drop from four seats to three - with the DUP likely losing a seat to Sinn Fein - have been scrapped.

Outside the city, a raft of new constituencies appeared - North Tyrone, Glenshane, Dalriada, West Antrim, Upper Bann and Blackwater and West Down - by merging parts of existing constituencies.

The DUP had opposed the Boundary Commission's original plan published in 2016, claiming it would undermine political stability.

But a revised electoral map obtained by the Press Association sees all the initially proposed new constituencies now gone with several other new constituencies now suggested.

The map, entitled '2018 revised proposals', went live briefly on the Commission's website earlier this week, apparently during a test exercise.

Northern Ireland is set to lose one MP - down from 18 to 17 - as part of government plans to cut the number of seats across the UK from 650 to 600.

It is expected that the most recent proposals would see 10 DUP MPs and seven Sinn Fein MPs returned to Westminster in future.

Sinn Fein MP Francie Molloy said: "These new proposals will impact upon electoral boundaries for Assembly elections, ensuring gerrymandered constituencies reminiscent of those drawn up by the unionist one-party state decades ago.

"The Boundary Commission should immediately clarify whether the media reports of the amended proposals are accurate because, if they are, it would mean that the Tories have again acquiesced to the DUP's anti-democratic agenda, just as they have done on issues such as equal marriage, the Irish language and legacy inquests.

"That is entirely unacceptable and further evidence of the British government's ongoing refusal to act in an impartial manner as they are obliged to under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement."

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, whose Lagan Valley constituency is set to disappear under the latest electoral map published by the Press Association, said: "The DUP won't be commenting until we see the proposals ourselves."

Ulster Unionist Lord Empey said: "The proposals contained in the map which was published today contain a number of anomalies where long-standing communities and areas are divided or cut off from their natural and historic hinterlands.

"This is certainly the case for Dungannon and Banbridge, and the physical shape of the proposed Mid Down constituency leaves a lot to be desired, stretching from Newtownards at its north eastern edge across to Banbridge.

"The retention of four seats for Belfast is made possible by expanding the city's parliamentary boundaries which is in contrast to the new council boundaries introduced a few years ago.

"We will wait to see the confirmed proposals once they are published and will study them with interest."

An SDLP spokeswoman said: "The SDLP notes that revised boundary proposals have been leaked in advance of a consultation due to start on January 30. The SDLP will study these proposals carefully and respond to the consultation."

An Alliance spokesman said: "It is notable what is suggested here is radically different from the provisional recommendations in 2016. Due to the unofficial nature of the release of these proposals, we will take time to study them in due course."

The Boundary Commission, which is an independent body funded by the Northern Ireland Office, has conducted a number of public consultation exercises on its first proposals and is anticipated to officially publish revised plans at the end of the month.

The map that briefly went public on Monday envisages the creation of a Causeway constituency on the north coast, merging part of East Londonderry with part of North Antrim and a small section of East Antrim.

The remainder of North Antrim is renamed Mid Antrim and takes in parts of East Antrim and South Antrim.

South Antrim, in turn, takes part of a defunct Lagan Valley. Another portion of Lagan Valley merges with a section of Strangford, and a small part of South Down, to become Mid Down. South Belfast is also expanded to take in parts of Lagan Valley and Strangford. Like Lagan Valley, the Strangford name is gone. The remaining chunk of the constituency is absorbed into a significantly larger North Down.

The remaining parts of East Londonderry are absorbed by enlarged West Tyrone and Mid Ulster constituencies. Unlike the expansion proposed under the first draft, Fermanagh and South Tyrone remains largely unchanged.

A spokesman for the Boundary Commission said: "During the preparation for our Revised Proposal consultation, which begins on January 30, 2018, the functionality of the website was being tested including the interactive map facility.

"The interactive map facility was accessed during this testing phase. The Commission will be proceeding with the Revised Consultation on January 30 as planned."

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