Sinn Féin voice concern over revised plan to redraw north's electoral boundaries
SINN Féin has hit out at revised proposals to redraw the north's electoral boundaries.
It follows reports that a new blueprint being prepared by the Boundary Commission differs significantly from previous plans.
When the commission first floated the idea of reducing Northern Ireland's 18 constituencies to 17 – including cutting Belfast's four seats to three – the DUP voiced concern about the changes.
Now Sinn Féin is angry after the original proposals appear to have been significantly altered – with Belfast now set to retain its four MPs.
An official map entitled "2018 revised proposals" was obtained by the Press Association after it was briefly accessible on a section of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland website earlier this week.
While it has since been deleted, PA took 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 Westminster seats across the UK from 650 to 600. But how the reduction from 18 to 17 is achieved has become the source of political controversy.
The commission's first proposals, published in 2016, were heavily criticised by the DUP, which claimed it could undermine the political stability of the region.
Analysts suggested the first version would see the party lose a seat to Sinn Fein in Belfast as it moved from four constituencies to three.
A redrawing of boundaries elsewhere also envisaged the creation of a series of new constituencies – North Tyrone, Glenshane, Dalriada, West Antrim, Upper Bann and Blackwater, and West Down.
But the revised map that was accessible on the commission website on Monday is significantly different.
Belfast retains its four seats, with radical changes also to the constituency landscape beyond the city. All the new named constituencies in the first draft are gone.
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.
Sinn Féin Mid Ulster MP Mr Molloy last night said the Boundary Commission should immediately clarify whether the reports of the amended proposals are accurate.
He said any move to renege on previous proposals would be "entirely unacceptable".