Belfast Telegraph

Plan to divide Northern Ireland town into three constituencies

By Donna Deeney

Proposals to split a town into three constituencies are being fiercely challenged ahead of next Monday's public consultation deadline.

Dungiven's population of over 3,000 people will be divided across the West Tyrone, Mid Ulster and Glenshane constituencies for Westminster elections if the Boundary Commission proposals are passed.

The Boundary Commission produced a map in 2016 showing how Westminster constituencies in Northern Ireland could be reduced from 18 to 17. However, this was later revised.

The new version now divides Dungiven's Main Street into two.

People living on one side would be in the West Tyrone constituency and those on the opposite side in Mid Ulster.

The town is further split at Drumrane Road which would see people living in Dungiven's hinterland having to vote in the proposed constituency of Glenshane.

This has led to accusations of gerrymandering by Sinn Fein and the formation of a community-based campaign opposed to the new proposals.

The Don't Divide Dungiven group is challenging these proposals. It has already staged a protest on the town's Main Street and launched a petition which has garnered more than 3,000 signatures to date.

Mary Dillon from the group said: "We believe that no town should be splintered, fractured and divided - we are a close-knit community and we plan to remain so, as a community in one constituency.

"We are delighted with the response from our community in such a short period of time.

"We have over 3,000 signatures in less than three days on our online petition and that number is growing daily.

"We have volunteers in the community going door to door collecting letters of objection to be submitted to the commission before the deadline of March 26.

"We are a hard-working community and we believe in ourselves and what we are trying to achieve here. Our community has sent a clear message to the Boundary Commission that the people of the Dungiven area will not sit back idly and wait to be decimated."

Sinn Fein East Londonderry MLA, Caoimhe Archibald whose constituency office on Dungiven's Main Street will be in West Tyrone, described the proposals as "a gerrymander for the 21st century".

She said: "Dungiven is a small town with a tight knit community and strong ties with its surrounding areas. There is no doubt that locating Dungiven on the edge of three constituencies would have a negative impact on its future. That is completely unacceptable. There can be no justification for it and the Boundary Commission have failed to produce any justification for it.

"There is also the ridiculous situation where the County Derry GAA centre of excellence at Owenbeg would be situated in the West Tyrone constituency.

"The Boundary Commission deny that a deliberate gerrymander is taking place at the behest of the DUP, but they have failed to explain or justify the changes which will have such a negative impact on democracy and which fly in the face of their own remit.

"There can be no return to the gerrymandering of the past. All votes should be equal and all citizens should be entitled to democratic representation."

A spokesman for the Boundary Commission said: "We encourage people to put in their responses to the consultation.

"It is by people telling the Commission their concerns, if they are happy or unhappy, that help inform the Commission so we can maybe offer alternative solutions."

Belfast Telegraph

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