Sinn Fein engaging in 'stunt politics' over boundaries plan: DUP's Dodds
The DUP has accused Sinn Fein of indulging in hyperbole, stunt politics and sectarian arguments over proposals to redraw Northern Ireland's electoral map.
As the party submitted its response to a public consultation on changing the region's constituency boundaries, deputy leader Nigel Dodds claimed his republican counterparts were trying to cover up for their lack of engagement in the two-year process.
Sinn Fein has reacted angrily to a second draft of plans to cut the number of constituencies from 18 to 17, claiming the proposals blatantly favour the DUP.
The revised map, which was published by the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland in January, was radically different to the first draft, which was issued in 2016.
Analysts suggested the initial version could have seen Sinn Fein overtake the DUP as the holder of the largest number of Westminster seats. Based on current voting patterns, the second draft should see the DUP retain its pre-eminence. Sinn Fein has heavily criticised the changes, claiming they would leave at least four constituencies without any nationalist representation at Westminster or Assembly level.
The party has warned that there can be "no return to the gerrymandering of the past".
It is particularly critical of the plan to split the Co Londonderry town of Dungiven across three parliamentary constituencies.
As the consultation exercise closed yesterday, the DUP highlighted that there are already a number of constituencies in Northern Ireland without a nationalist MLA and claimed any move to guarantee such representation would be the very definition of gerrymandering.
Mr Dodds accused Sinn Fein of trying to mask its failure to engage with the initial public consultation on the 2016 proposals.
"From 2016 until a few weeks ago there was silence from Sinn Fein in relation to this boundary review," said the North Belfast MP. "Whilst the DUP submitted dozens of pages of detailed information Sinn Fein did not submit a single word. Instead Sinn Fein has resorted to a late campaign of hyperbole, stunt politics and sectarian arguments to cover for their inaction.
"Most absurd, however, are comments from various Sinn Fein representatives that there should be 'no return to the gerrymandering of the past'. This might make for an easy soundbite and fits well with other vacuous slogans trotted out by Sinn Fein recently. However, in the very same breath Sinn Fein demand that new boundaries should ensure nationalist representation in some seats at Assembly level.
"Perhaps it comes as news to Sinn Fein that drawing constituency boundaries to ensure a political outcome is the very dictionary definition of gerrymandering."
Mr Dodds said the second draft was "in no way perfect" but he said it was more in line with the thinking of the majority of local parties, including the nationalist SDLP.
The next step in the process will see the Commission submit a final version of the map to the Government, which will add it to plans to reshape the rest of the UK's electoral map. MPs are set to vote on the overall package in the autumn.
The Boundary Commission has insisted the changes were made impartially and without political interference.