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Election briefing: From gerrymandering and an April Fools’ wish list to Northern Ireland’s most unambiguous party

Andrew Madden


Current NI electoral boundaries

Current NI electoral boundaries

Jim Allister and his wife Ruth

Jim Allister and his wife Ruth


Current NI electoral boundaries

Double standards on gerrymandering?

Sinn Fein raised more than a few eyebrows on Friday when it emerged the party is proposing to have the South Belfast constituency abolished in future elections. The SDLP's MP for the area, Claire Hanna, who romped home in the last general election with some 27,000 votes, around 15,000 more than the nearest candidate — expressed her shock at the turn of events. The constituency is also larger than East and West Belfast and is the most diverse of all NI's electoral areas, returning MLAs from five different parties: SDLP, DUP, Alliance, Sinn Fein and Greens. There is a term for this move by Sinn Fein we are all too familiar with: gerrymandering.

What is most curious about this move is that, back in 2018, proposed changes to electoral boundaries here that would seemingly have favoured the DUP were branded “gerrymandering to placate” Northern Ireland's largest unionist party by Sinn Fein. This criticism was not voiced by one Sinn Fein representative or party spokesperson at the time, but at least half a dozen, in what was essentially a media blitz in a bid to put a spanner in the proposals.

What is even more curious is that press statements on Sinn Fein's website referring to said gerrymandering have vanished. If you simply google “Sinn Fein on gerrymandering” and click on any of the various links which previously directed to statements from Conor Murphy, Colm Gildernew, Francie Molloy and others on the Sinn Fein website, you are greeted with the following 404 error message, reading: “We're sorry, but the page you requested could not be found on our servers. We may have recently moved, renamed, or deleted certain pages.”

It seems, much like the party's previous stance on Russia, they are simply trying to avoid accusations of double standards and prone to extreme stance-switching when it suits them.

An April Fool’s wish list

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Ah, April Fool's Day. Given the state of world at the minute — war in Europe, the cost of living crisis on the tail end of a pandemic that hasn't gone away - I was hoping we would give it a rest this year, lest we cause more unneeded distress. One humorous political wish list, however, was posted on Twitter by human rights organisation Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR), reading: “‘Stick your hostile environment’ — Givan tells UK Home Office. ‘Mackies will be 100% social’ — Hargey takes action on housing rights. ‘Our policies are the problem, not you’ — Swann promises counsellors in every GP practice.” We can but dream.

NI's most unambiguous party

An interesting press statement was released by the TUV on Friday, which declared that the party's designation on the ballot paper for May's poll will read: ‘TUV — No Sea Border’.

Explaining the move, TUV leader Jim Allister said: “Having led where others have followed we wish every voter to see the issue identified without ambiguity on the ballot paper. There will be no doubt as to what a vote for TUV means.”

Now, the TUV have been accused of being many things, but ‘ambiguous’ is definitely not one of them. Anyone with even a slight grasp of Northern Ireland politics could probably predict the party’s stance on any given issue before Jim Allister’s party has voiced its opinion. So this just seems like a needless waste of ink. I doubt anyone was going to be mistaken that they were actually voting for a bunch of liberal Europhiles.

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