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Fresh Boundary Commission plans spark Sinn Féin concern over Stormont seats

Sinn Féin is concerned that there will be no nationalist representation in four assembly constituencies. Picture by Paul Faith/PA

SINN Féin plans to raise a blueprint for redrawing the north's electoral boundaries with British Prime Minister Theresa May claiming the latest proposals will leave four assembly seats with no nationalist representation.

The Boundary Commission has stressed that its recommendations for reducing the number of regional seats from 18 to 17were made impartially and without political interference.

Its revised proposals, which were unveiled yesterday, see the shelving of a plan to cut the number of seats in Belfast from four to three.

When the commission floated its original proposals in 2016 analysts suggested Sinn Féin could overtake the DUP as the holder of the largest number of Westminster seats.

But Sinn Féin's Francie Molloy has highlighted the impact the revised plans would have on four Stormont constituencies - which will each return five elected representatives to the assembly - where he claims there will no nationalist representation from 20 available seats.

Republicans are understood to be unhappy with the newly re-configured constituencies of North Down, Mid Down, East Antrim and East Belfast.

The Mid Ulster MP said the commission's "radically redrawn" proposals closely resembled those tabled by the DUP.

"The impact of these changes will be most keenly felt in assembly elections where there will be four constituencies with no nationalist representation whatsoever – that is in stark contrast to the fact that there will be unionist representation in every constituency in the north," he said.

Mr Molloy said his party leadership would be raising the matter with Theresa May.

"Given the history of discrimination and gerrymandering of the northern political system we have to ensure that any boundaries accurately reflect the electorate," he said.

A DUP spokesman said the party had been a "constant critic" of the proposals to reduce the number of constituencies across the UK and in Northern Ireland in particular.

"There was widespread unease with the Boundary Commission's provisional recommendations," he said.

"The DUP submitted detailed proposals to the commission taking into account the need to respect existing boundaries and local ties as well as the number of voters in each constituency."

Alliance MLA David Ford labelled the fresh proposals "bizarre".

He said the plan for Belfast to retain its four seat was "not sustainable or practical".

"To sustain those four seats, the proposals see a seat lost elsewhere and therefore the likes of Newtownards and Banbridge end up in the same proposed constituency – that is just bizarre," the South Antrim representative said.

"This is not an issue of political bias but maintaining social links and not disrupting the established patterns of communities across Northern Ireland."

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