Sinn Fein has condemned new proposals to redraw the north’s electoral constituencies as a Tory/DUP gerrymander. A new revised plan is being prepared by the Boundary Commission which is a dramatic shift from previous plans.
It has long been known that the number of the North’s constituencies for Westminster and Assembly elections will from 18 to 17 in line with a reduction of total Westminster MPs from 65 to 600. But the original proposals appear to have been significantly changed, with Belfast now set to retain its four MPs, a significant boost for unionism and the DUP, which controls 3 of the 4 seats.
The DUP currently props up the Tory government at Westminster, and there have been widespread allegations of political interference in the new plan.
The map for “2018 revised proposals” was temporarily published on the website of the Boundary Commission in an apparent error.
The commission’s first proposals, published in 2016, were heavily criticised by unionists after analysts suggested they could lose two seats in Belfast with Sinn Fein gaining one.
Overall, election experts suggested that the DUP would lose three seats and Sinn Fein would gain two, becoming the North’s biggest party. The changes now on the table would see the DUP still the biggest party at Westminster with 10 seats to Sinn Fein’s seven.
The revised map is significantly different. Belfast retains its four seats, with radical changes also to the constituency landscape beyond the city. All the new constituencies from the first draft are gone. Instead, there is a proposal for 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.
But the most significant change is that the strongly unionist Lagan Valley and Strangford constituencies are replaced by Mid Down, with portions distributed in an obvious gerrymander. The manoeuvre will bolster DUP support in surrounding areas including South Belfast, where they could keep their slim hold on the seat, and North Down, where they now stand to gain a seat.
The DUP also stand to gain in Assembly elections, which traditionally favour the largest party in each constituency, and by displacing nationalist voters from their constituency candidates.
Sinn Fein Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy said the planned move was designed to placate the DUP after it objected to the 2016 plan,
“Sinn Fein 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,” he said.
“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.”