Belfast to retain four constituencies under revised electoral boundary plan
A plan to redraw electoral boundaries in Northern Ireland has been significantly altered, with Belfast now set to retain its four seats, according to an official map obtained by the Press Association.
The map titled "2018 revised proposals" was briefly accessible on a section of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland website earlier this week. While it has since been deleted, PA has secured a screenshot of the map.
The commission has confirmed the map temporarily went live during a test exercise.
Northern Ireland is losing one constituency as part of wider government plans to reduce the number of seats in the UK from 650 to 600. How the reduction from 18 to 17 seats is achieved has become the source of political controversy.
The commission's first proposals, published in 2016, were heavily criticised by the British government's kingmakers, the DUP, who claimed it could undermine the political stability of the north. Analysts suggested the first version would see the DUP lose a seat to Sinn Féin in Belfast.
That map saw Belfast drop from four constituencies to three with the redrawing of a number of other boundaries. It envisaged the creation of a series of new constituencies - North Tyrone; Glenshane; Dalriada; West Antrim; Upper Bann and Blackwater; and West Down - by merging parts of existing constituencies.
But the revised map that was accessible on the Commission website on Monday is significantly different. Belfast retains its four seats, with radical changes to the constituency landscape beyond the city. All the new named constituencies in the first draft are gone.
BREAKING - Belfast set to retain 4 electoral constituencies as part of major revisions to proposals to redraw boundaries in NI, according to a Boundary Commission map obtained by @PA - new map radically different to politically contentious 2016 plan to cut seats from 18 to 17. pic.twitter.com/CxzVCYjeKH— David Young (@DavidYoungPA) January 17, 2018
The commission, which is an independent body funded by the Northern Ireland Office, has conducted a number of public consultation exercises on its first proposals and is anticipated to officially publish revised proposals at the end of the month.
The map that briefly went public on Monday envisages the creation of a Causeway constituency on the north coast, merging part of East Derry with part of North Antrim and a small section of East Antrim.
The remainder of North Antrim is renamed Mid Antrim and takes in parts of East Antrim and South Antrim.
South Antrim, in turn, takes part of a defunct Lagan Valley. Another portion of Lagan Valley merges with a section of Strangford, and a small part of South Down, to become Mid Down. South Belfast is also expanded to take in parts of Lagan Valley and Strangford. Like Lagan Valley, the Strangford name is gone. The remaining chunk of the constituency is absorbed into a significantly larger North Down.
The remaining parts of East Derry are absorbed by enlarged West Tyrone and Mid Ulster constituencies.
Unlike the expansion proposed under the first draft, Fermanagh and South Tyrone remains largely unchanged.
Elections expert Nicholas Whyte, visiting professor at Ulster University, highlighted that the DUP "were not the only people who opposed" the reduction from four to three seats in Belfast - the SDLP and others had done so too.
Mr Whyte said during the consultations on the commission's original proposals he had come to the view that retaining four seats in Belfast was feasible, whereas previously he had thought three seats would be necessary to achieve the overall reduction in Northern Ireland seats from 18 to 17.
The elections analyst, who earlier said on twitter the revised plans seemed to be "not too far off my own proposals", praised the new map as "much better" than that for the original proposals.
However, he said he doubted the plans ever would be implemented.
"I still don't see the parliamentary arithmetic is there to pass these proposals," he added.
The map has come to light amid on-going speculation that the wider UK 2018 boundary review could be scrapped.
Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy has said a revised electoral boundary map would amount to government gerrymander to placate the DUP.
"The Boundary Commission proposed and consulted on new electoral boundaries in 2016 as part of an overall plan to reduce the number of MPs here from 18 to 17," he said.
"Unsurprisingly, the DUP rejected the plan despite the fact that the proposals reflected the terms and remit under which the Boundary Commission was established.
"Sinn Féin warned at the time that any attempt via the Tory-DUP pact to subvert this process would represent an anti-democratic attempt to gerrymander electoral boundaries in that party's favour.
"These new proposals will also impact upon electoral boundaries for Assembly elections, ensuring gerrymandered constituencies reminiscent of those drawn up by the unionist one-party state decades ago.
"The Boundary Commission should immediately clarify whether the media reports of the amended proposals are accurate because, if they are, it would mean that the Tories have again acquiesced to the DUP's anti-democratic agenda, just as they have done on issues such as equal marriage, the Irish Language and legacy inquests.
"That is entirely unacceptable and further evidence of the British Government's ongoing refusal to act in an impartial manner as they are obliged to under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement."
A spokesman for the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland told PA: "During the preparation for our Revised Proposal consultation, which begins on 30 January 2018, the functionality of the website was being tested including the interactive map facility. The interactive map facility was accessed during this testing phase. The Commission will be proceeding with the Revised Consultation on 30 January as planned."
The map has come to light amid on-going speculation that the wider UK 2018 boundary review could be scrapped. Labour has opposed the plan, with the party standing to lose seats under new boundaries, and some Tory backbenchers are also unhappy with the proposal to cut the number of MPs to 600.
Last week the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee heard evidence about the implications of scrapping the review.
The final proposals are due to go to the Government in September. Once they are laid before Parliament, MPs can approve or reject them.
Changes to electoral boundaries
Here is an analysis of the Westminster boundary changes in Northern Ireland outlined in the Boundary Commission map obtained by the Press Association:
Existing seat: Antrim East
Original proposals: Retained, but loses northern part to new Dalriada seat (which also takes in parts of existing Antrim North and the Coleraine area from existing Londonderry East) and parts to new Antrim West seat (which also takes in parts of existing Antrim North and Antrim South), while having a part added from existing Belfast North.
Revised proposals (according to map disclosure): Antrim East retained, still loses same parts as before (now to new Causeway and retained Antrim North seats) but has Ballyclare area of existing Antrim South seat added.
Existing seat: Antrim North
Original: Abolished, with parts going into new Dalriada seat (which also takes in Coleraine area from existing Londonderry East and part of existing Antrim East), and the Ballymena area going into new Antrim West seat (which also takes in parts of existing Antrim South and Antrim East).
Revised: Antrim North retained, loses northern area to new Causeway seat (which also takes in parts of existing Londonderry East and Antrim East), adds parts from Antrim East and Antrim South.
Existing seat: Antrim South
Original: Retained, but loses Ballyclare and Randalstown areas in the North to new Antrim West seat (which also takes in Ballymena area from Antrim North and parts of Antrim East) and has part of the Lisburn area added from abolished Lagan Valley.
Revised: Antrim South retained, still loses northern parts (now to Antrim North and Antrim East), loses in addition a part to retained Belfast North but takes in a larger part of the Lisburn area from abolished Lagan Valley.
Existing seat: Belfast East
Original: Retained, with part of abolished Belfast South added.
Revised: Retained, with few changes.
Existing seat: Belfast North
Original: Abolished, with northern part added to Antrim East and rest going into new Belfast North West seat (which also takes in northern part of existing Belfast West).
Revised: Retained, with Mallusk area added from Antrim South.
Existing seat: Belfast South
Original: Abolished, with parts going to Belfast East, Strangford and new Belfast South West and Down West seats.
Revised: Retained, with parts added from abolished Lagan Valley and Strangford seats.
Existing seat: Belfast West
Original: Abolished, with parts going to Belfast North and Antrim South and the rest going into new Belfast South West seat (which also takes in half of abolished Belfast South).
Revised: Retained, loses part to Antrim South and has part added from abolished Lagan Valley.
Existing seat: North Down
Original: Retained, gains Dundonald from and loses parts to Strangford.
Revised: Down North retained, gains eastern half of abolished Strangford.
Existing: South Down
Original: Retained, small parts exchanged with neighbouring Newry & Armagh, Strangford and new Down West seats.
Revised: Down South retained, with small parts added from Newry & Armagh, Upper Bann and abolished Strangford seats while losing a part to new Down Mid seat (which also takes in southern part of abolished Lagan Valley and western part of abolished Strangford as well as a small part of Upper Bann).
Existing seat: Fermanagh & South Tyrone
Original: Retained, part of abolished Tyrone West added.
Revised: Retained, closer to existing seat, small parts added from Ulster Mid and lost to Newry & Armagh and Upper Bann.
Existing seat: Foyle
Original: Retained, with small part of Tyrone West added.
Revised: Retained: with small part of Tyrone West added - no change from original proposals.
Existing seat: Lagan Valley
Original: Abolished, with northern part including most of Lisburn added to Antrim South and most of the rest incorporated into new Down West seat (which also takes in parts of Upper Bann, Belfast South and Down South).
Revised: Abolished, with larger northern part including Lisburn added to Antrim South, a bigger area moved to Belfast South and the rest incorporated into new Down Mid seat (which also takes in the western half of Strangford and small parts of Down South and Upper Bann).
Existing seat: East Derry
Original: Abolished, parts go to new Glenshane seat which takes in parts of existing Ulster Mid, while Coleraine area switches to new Dalriada seat (which also takes in parts of existing Antrim North and Antrim East).
Revised: Abolished, parts go to Tyrone West and Ulster Mid with the rest goes into new Causeway seat (which also takes in parts of existing Antrim North and Antrim East).
Existing seat: Newry & Armagh
Original: Retained, but loses a northern part to new Upper Bann & Blackwater seat (which also takes in parts from existing Ulster Mid, Fermanagh & South Tyrone and Upper Bann seats).
Revised: Newry & Armagh retained, loses a small part to Upper Bann and gains a small part from Fermanagh & South Tyrone.
Existing seat: Strangford
Original: Retained, loses Dundonald to Down North while adding small parts from Down North, Belfast South and Down South.
Revised: Abolished, loses western half to Belfast South and new Down Mid seats while eastern half goes into Down North.
Existing seat: West Tyrone
Original: Abolished, parts go to Fermanagah & South Tyrone and Foyle, most of rest to new Tyrone North seat (which takes in parts of existing Ulster Mid).
Revised: Tyrone West retained, loses part to Foyle but has part of existing Londonderry East added.
Existing seat: Ulster Mid
Original: Abolished, parts go to new Glenshane seat and parts to new Tyrone North seat, with Coalisland area in the South going to new Upper Bann & Blackwater seat.
Revised: Ulster Mid retained, has part of existing Londonderry East added.
Existing seat: Upper Bann
Original: Replaced by new Upper Bann & Blackwater seat, which takes in northern part of existing Upper Bann along with the Coalisland area from existing Ulster Mid, a part including Dungannon from Fermanagh & South Tyrone and a northern part of Newry & Armagh. The southern part of existing Upper Bann goes mainly into the new Down West seat (which takes in parts of abolished Lagan Valley and retained Down South).
Revised: Upper Bann retained, but with parts of Fermanagh & South Tyrone and Newry & Armagh added, while losing parts to Down South and new Down Mid seat.