Northern Ireland news

Constituency changes could undermine stability in Northern Ireland says DUP

Ballot Boxes ahead of June's General Election. Proposed changes to Westminster constituencies in Northern Ireland could see the unionists drop a seat to Sinn Féin. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association
Siobhan Fenton, Press Association

Proposed changes to Westminster constituencies in Northern Ireland could undermine the north's stability, the DUP has claimed.

Four Belfast battlegrounds would merge into three and pollsters have suggested the unionists could drop a seat to Sinn Féin.

The electoral map across the UK is being redrawn as part of a planned reduction in the number of MPs from 650 to 600 from next year. In Northern Ireland the total would drop from 18 to 17.

A DUP statement said: "The proposals would produce an unrepresentative political result that would have the potential to have far-reaching and negative political consequences for the constitutional stability of Northern Ireland."

The proposed changes would see the East Belfast seat remain largely intact, while the remaining constituencies would be redrawn to produce two new seats – Belfast South West and Belfast North West.

If previous election results were to be replicated under the suggested seats, the DUP would drop one seat in the city, potentially to Sinn Féin, political polling website Electoral Calculus claimed.

The boundary commissioners overseeing the revamp have said they did not take party political considerations into account and cannot predict whether unionists or nationalists will emerge as winners or losers.

The current Northern Ireland constituencies, including the four Belfast battlegrounds

The number of seats in the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly is linked to Westminster representation and would be reduced from 90 to 85.

Sinn Féin has not yet commented on the proposals.

The SDLP said: "The proposed reduction in representation would inevitably lead to a diminution in the standing and influence of Belfast as a major city and regional capital.

"We believe that this would sit at odds with the natural progression and development of cities and regions."

The DUP said the Boundary Commission needed to revisit its broad approach and detailed proposals.

"The DUP has consistently criticised the present legislation as much more likely to produce poor boundaries and the commission's proposals appear to have gone out of their way to fulfil our concerns," it said.

"The end result of this flawed approach is an unnecessary level of change and constituencies that make statistical sense but very little else."

Elsewhere in Northern Ireland, proposed constituency boundary changes would see some demographic shifts in seats. The seat presently known as Fermanagh South Tyrone has long been a marginal constituency but would have a considerable Sinn Féin majority under suggested reforms.

In 2011, MPs voted for the constituency boundary review as part of plans to reduce costs and in a bid to bring boundaries in line with fluctuating community changes such the expansions of some cities.

The consultation period on proposals is due to end in October. The final boundary proposals will be put to the House of Commons for approval before being implemented.

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