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Boundary body rejects 'gerrymandering' accusation as it unveils revised proposals

The proposed new boundaries are in pink with the existing constituencies in blue

The body tasked with redrawing the north's electoral boundaries has rejected Sinn Féin claims that its latest proposals "represent gerrymandering".

The Boundary Commission's move came as it published fresh plans for an overhaul of Northern Ireland's Westminster and Stormont constituencies.

When details of the commission's most up to date recommendations inadvertently emerged earlier this month, Sinn Féin's Francie Molloy said they were an "anti-democratic attempt to gerrymander electoral boundaries" in favour of the DUP.

The latest draft is radically different from the original proposals published in September last year.

The original proposals advocated cutting the number of seats in Belfast from four to three as part of a broader plan to reduce numbers overall.

The commission's brief is to cut the number of constituencies in Northern Ireland from 18 to 17, while ensuring the number of voters in each is roughly equal.

The Press Association published the fresh proposals a fortnight ago after a map outlining the new constituencies was briefly accessible on a section of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland website.

As the revised boundaries were officially unveiled yesterday, the commission responded to Sinn Féin's allegation.

A spokesman said the Boundary Commission's remit was "strictly prescribed by statute", which provided safeguards to ensure that it was protected from political influence or interference.

"Accordingly, the work of the commission is carried out separately from politics and is their strictly objective assessment of evidence in accordance with the applicable statutory rules," the spokesman said.

The revised proposals will be the subject of an eight-week consultation, ending on March 26. The commission will submit its final recommendations to the secretary of state no later than October 1 before Westminster decides whether to approve or reject them..

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