Irish Republican News · September 17, 2016
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Stormont political dynasties face new challenges
Stormont political dynasties face new challenges

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The entry of a political party from the South and a profound redrafting of Westminster constituencies is set to shake up the political establishment in the North.

Fianna Fail has long talked about the possibility of entering politics in the Six Counties, but it is set to put forward candidates for the first time. Party leader Micheal Martin revealed this week that he sees the next local council elections as a target.

Long the dominant party of government in the 26 Counties, Fianna Fail is set to portray itself as a fresh alternative to Sinn Fein and the SDLP, untainted by the machinations of the unpopular Stormont Assembly.

The idea had been on ice following its involvement in the 2008 financial crisis, and the subsequent collapse of its support in the South. But Martin notes that Fianna Fail is already a registered party in the North, and held its youth conference in Newry last year. “We’re looking to contest the 2019 local elections,” he said. “That remains a target.”

His party sees a gap in the political market in the Six Counties as disaffected nationalist voters have increasingly stayed home in recent elections, with both Sinn Fein and the SDLP losing support.

It is set to start work on a potentially significant document to set out what a united Ireland might look like. Party officials are to spend at least 12 months working on a document that investigates the practicalities of reunification, including merging the education and health systems.

“What are we talking about when we talk about a united Ireland? Is it two parliaments?” Mr Martin asked.

“The SDLP say they believe in that, so do Sinn Fein. So it’s not the only idea that Dublin rules Ireland. You’d have two assemblies.

“It’s evolving work. I’ve no sense that Sinn Fein or anybody else have any sense of what the configuration would be.

“Economically, what does it mean? Subsidy-wise, what does it mean? Integration of two health services, what does it mean? There are two education systems, which are quite different in some respects. So there are a whole range of issues there that we’re proposing to put a team together to do some work on.”

CONSTITUENCY BOUNDARIES

Meanwhile, the political battlefield in the North is also set to change geographically as proposed new boundaries for Westminster parliamentary elections have been advanced. There are currently 18 Westminster constituencies in the Six Counties, but this is set to drop to 17. Every constituency is being changed, in some cases changed drastically.

South Belfast, which former SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell retained in 2015 with the lowest ever vote share of a successful Westminster candidate, is to be eliminated and divided four ways. Some voters move to an expanded East Belfast, but most are being used to bolster the declining population of West Belfast to create a new South-West Belfast constituency.

North Belfast is to transformed into North-West Belfast by the shift of its boundary deep into the Lower Falls, and will find itself a top target for Sinn Fein.

Another notable change is the elimination of the old ‘East Londonderry’ constituency name which is to be recast as Glenshane, and redrawn to link Limavady and Magherafelt. Further east, the name of the ancient kingdom of Dalriada is used for a north Antrim constituency which now sprawls from Coleraine to the Glens.

Other redrawn and renamed constituencies seats include North Tyrone, Upper Bann and Blackwater, West Antrim and West Down. Another eight are to retain their names - East Antrim, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Foyle, Newry and Armagh, North Down, South Antrim, South Down, and Strangford - but see slight changes to boundaries.

Notably, Fermanagh and South Tyrone loses Dungannon town and instead acquires nationalist territory to the west, making it a more likely prospect for Sinn Fein to regain the seat it lost to former Ulster Unionist Party leader Tom Elliott in 2015.

The planned reduction from six to five Assembly members for each constituency means that the next Stormont elections will bring only 85 MLAs, rather than the current 108.

The Boundary Commission’s proposals will now be subject to public consultation, and must then be approved by the House of Commons. The DUP’s North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds lashed out at the proposals after it emerged that a Catholic majority exists in 9 of the 17 seats.

“These boundary commission proposals will have a detrimental effect on unionist representation,” he said.

“The proposals do not take into consideration the natural hinterlands of many major cities and towns in Northern Ireland. That is something which is of particularly concern as these shape communities.”

© 2016 Irish Republican News