Commission for Northern Ireland published its first round of proposed
changes to the 18 parliamentary constituency boundaries on 29 April
2004. These will be subjected to feedback and public enquiries - and
each public enquiry will generate its own report; the Commission will
then consider the whole thing again and produce revised
recommendations, probably at the start of 2005, and the final
recommendations will probably be given legal force too late to have
effect for a 2005 Westminster election (though probably in time if the
election is left to 2006).
On the left, a
map of the new constituencies by Conal Kelly, with the deviations from
the electoral quota of 60,696. There has been much
discussion of the changes on Slugger
based on analysis by the Young
I present (in red) the Boundary Commission's own description of the
changes and (in black) my immediate reaction.
The Boundary Commission is seeking feedback from the public, and I will
propose to them the schema I put forward last
year as my own speculation as to what they might conclude. A
summary is given at the end.
Commission looked very carefully at the
constituencies in Belfast, and having done so, concluded that there
should be four constituencies in Belfast, the boundaries of which
should be extended in a radial fashion. It is proposed that the
Castlereagh Local Government District (LGD) wards of Cregagh and
Wynchurch should be transferred from the Belfast East to Belfast South
constituency. This is one prediction I got
right. The knock-on effects of abolishing one of the three Belfast
constituencies would have been massive, and difficult to sustain
through a public enquiry.
The four Belfast
constituencies have been
extended as follows:
East constituency to
Castlereagh LGD wards of Ballyhanwood, Carrowreagh, Dundonald, Enler
and Graham’s Bridge. These wards are at present in the Strangford
constituency; Does it make sense? The
changes are pretty unsurprising. The one weakness in the proposal is
the shift of the Cregagh ward to South Belfast; it will be interesting
to see if the DUP fight that. Demographic shift: The
Belfast is roughly 2% more Protestant than the current constituency. Westminster consequences: no
serious threat to Peter Robinson. Assembly consequences:
strengthened at expense of Nationalists and PUP, but probably would
have been no change in 2003 election.
to include the
Newtownabbey LGD wards of Collinbridge, Glebe and Glengormley, at
present in the South
Antrim constituency, and
Cloughfern, at present in the East Antrim constituency; Does it make sense? Broadly
Specifically no. The weird division of the Shankill Road between North
and West Belfast remains, and the new boundary weaves through the
streets of Glengormley. Better to have left Cloughfern in East Antrim
and extended North Belfast a bit farther northwest.
shift: The new North
Belfast is 0.1% more Catholic than the current constituency.
South Antrim is 3.0% more Protestant than the current constituency. Westminster consequences: In
Belfast this slightly accelerates Nationalist growth, slightly
diminishes DUP dominance. In South Antrim the DUP are strengthened,
probably enough to make a difference. Assembly consequences: In
Belfast, DUP will slip slightly to UUP, but are so far ahead that it
South Antrim, second Nationalist quota is a little further away, so SF
starting from a lower base next time (but probably would still take
Belfast South constituency
to include the
Castlereagh LGD wards of Carryduff East and Carryduff West at present
in the Strangford constituency, and Cregagh and Wynchurch, at present
in the Belfast East constituency; Does it make sense? Yes,
remarks about Cregagh above under East Belfast. Demographic shift: The
Belfast is 0.7% more Protestant than the current constituency. Westminster consequences: none.
Assembly consequences: Alliance
slightly strengthened (from very weak position) at expense of UUP, and
third Nationalist seat (currently second SDLP seat) looks weaker (but
probably will be helped by demographic growth).
West constituency to
Lisburn LGD wards of Derryaghy, Dunmurry and Seymour Hill, at present
in the Lagan Valley constituency. Does it make sense? Yes,
remarks about continued split of Shankill above under North Belfast. Demographic shift: The
Belfast is 3.2% more Protestant than the current constituency. Westminster consequences: none.
Assembly consequences: DUP
least Unionist) seat is made safe rather than marginal.
consequence of changes proposed to the
Belfast East and
Belfast South constituencies, significant changes to the boundaries of
the Strangford constituency are proposed and that the constituency
should include the Down LGD wards of Ballymaglave, Ballynahinch East,
Crossgar, Drumaness, Dunmore and Kilmore. The wards at present form
part of the South Down constituency. Does it make sense? Barely.
Crossgar and Kilmore are fair enough, but the Ballynahinch wards bring
the constituency far into the heart of County Down to the point where
one should think about renaming it "Mid Down"; since when did
Ballynahinch look to Newtownards? The actual town and ward of
Strangford remain outside the parliamentary constituency of the same
name which I have always thought bizarre. Demographic shift: The new
Strangford is 5.2% more Catholic than the current constituency. Westminster consequences: depends
on the ability of the UUP to mobilise tactical voting if the DUP have a
bad year. Assembly consequences: Would
definitely deliver a Nationalist seat, barely missed in 2003. Alliance
looks most vulnerable - good areas in Castlereagh lost to East and
South Belfast, in return for parts of Down where the party has no
proposed that the South
be extended to include the three Newry and Mourne LGD wards of St
Mary’s, St Patrick’s and Windsor Hill at present in the Newry and
Armagh constituency, and the Banbridge LGD ward of Loughbrickland at
present in the Upper Bann constituency. Does it make sense? See
remarks re Ballynahinch, and Loughbrickland (my ancestral home!) is
surely thrown in just to make up the numbers. The Newry Town division
is fair enough, though, and simply restores the constituency boundary
to where it was until 1983. Demographic shift: The new
Down is 4.6% more Catholic than the current constituency. Westminster consequences:
seat within reach for Sinn Féin. Assembly consequences: Second
Unionist seat is now in question; currently UUP (who held this
constituency at Westminster until 1987) still ahead of DUP. On 2003
results SDLP better placed to pick up - for now.
proposed that the size of the electorate of
the Upper Bann
constituency be varied by the transfer of the Craigavon LGD ward of
Aghagallon to the Lagan Valley constituency. Does it make sense?
On Upper Bann - see above remarks re Loughbrickland, which apply
equally to Aghagallon.
On Lagan Valley - losing
Dunmurry made sense, losing Aghagallon seems a bit arbitrary. Demographic shift: The new
Bann is 1.5% more Protestant than the current constituency.
The new Lagan Valley is 1.9%
more Protestant than the current constituency. Westminster consequences:
either case. Assembly consequences: In
Upper Bann, a third Nationalist
seat is a little further out of reach.
In Lagan Valley, the SDLP
seat looks very vulnerable; there is not quite a Nationalist quota
left. On the Unionist side the votes will be affected much more by the
move of several local personalities from the UUP to the DUP than by the
proposed that the East
constituency be extended to include the Moyle LGD wards of Bonamargy
and Rathlin, Dalriada, Glenaan, Glenariff, Glendun, Glenshesk,
Glentaisie and Knocklayd at present in the North Antrim
constituency. It is proposed to alter the name of the constituency to Antrim
Coast and Glens to
reflect these changes. Does it make sense? No. At
the southern end, it would have
been better to shift a couple more Glengormley wards into North Belfast
rather than Cloughfern. At the northern end, it's simply absurd to
suggest that the Glens look to Jordanstown rather than Ballymena as a
regional centre. I don't expect this to survive a round of public
enquiries. Demographic shift: The new
Coast and Glens is 7.9% more Catholic than the current East Antrim
constituency. The new North Antrim is 6.1% more Protestant than
the current constituency. Westminster consequences:
probably have needed Nationalist tactical votes to hang on in East
Antrim anyway; now there is a much larger pool to draw on. Little
effect on DUP dominance in North Antrim. Assembly consequences: One
very safe Nationalist seat in East Antrim,
rather than the marginal one lost in 2003. Probably enough spare votes
to keep Alliance in play, so likely loser would be third DUP seat.
In North Antrim, however, the second
seat gained in 2003 would be lost.
It is proposed to
alter the boundaries of the East
Londonderry and Foyle constituencies by
transferring the two Derry LGD wards of Banagher and Claudy from the
Foyle constituency to the East Londonderry constituency. Does it make sense? Yes. Demographic shift: The new
Londonderry is 2.1% more Catholic than the current constituency. The
new Foyle is 0.3% more Catholic than the current constituency. Westminster consequences:
None. Assembly consequences: In
East Londonderry, Nationalists
closer to a third seat but still some way off. In Foyle, Unionists
slightly further from a second seat that was never very likely.
No changes are
proposed to the Fermanagh
and South Tyrone, Mid Ulster, North
Down and West
Tyrone constituencies. Does it
make sense? Yes. Although the Mid-Ulster and West Tyrone
constituencies are both very new in their current form, they are
reasonably sound natural units and like Fermanagh-South Tyrone close
enough to the quota that no change is necessary. Tinkering with North
Down could have given a bit more flexibility for the rearrangement of
I might put in my submission to the Boundary Commission (first thoughts)
will propose to the Commission the suggestions that I made last year.
On Belfast: While accepting the logic of the decision to stick to four
constituencies, I still think that moving the entire Shankill into West
Belfast makes more sense. South Belfast can then take in the Dunmurry
wards rather than Carryduff, and North Belfast extend further into
Antrim: I think the scheme I proposed last year remains
sensible: shift most of Glengormley into North Belfast, shift
the boundary between North and South Antrim a few miles north, and
leave poor abused East Antrim unchanged.
On County Down:
Mild extension of Strangford to take in the obvious South Down wards,
but otherwise leave unchanged. There will be a few large constituencies
(Armagh, Upper Bann) but compared to the variations in England and
Scotland it's pretty small stuff.
On the West:
Don't bother even with the shift of two rural wards from Foyle to East
Londonderry. The area looks towards Derry City anyway.
But I will
finalise this in late May / early June.