Proposals to cut number of North’s constituencies from 18 to 17

If implemented number of Assembly members would be cut from 90 to 85

The changes are proposed as part of a wider plan to reduce the number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600. Photograph: Getty Images

The changes are proposed as part of a wider plan to reduce the number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Northern Ireland would see its number of parliamentary constituencies slimmed down from 18 to 17 under new proposals from the Boundary Commission in Northern Ireland.

Under the proposed changes there would be three new constituencies – Causeway, Mid Antrim and Mid Down while four constituencies – North Antrim, Lagan Valley, Strangford and East Derry – would cease to exist.

Eight other constituencies also would undergo varying degrees of change while retaining their names. These are East Antrim, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh, North Down, South Antrim, South Down, Upper Bann and West Tyrone.

Just two constituencies would remain effectively unaltered, Fermanagh South Tyrone and Foyle.

While it was originally proposed that Belfast would lose one of its four constituencies, the commission, following representations, proposed that the constituencies of North, South, East and West Belfast would remain in existence while expanding further into the city suburbs.

This would be seen as benefitting the DUP as reducing Belfast to three constituencies was likely to threaten Emma Little Pengelly’s DUP seat in South Belfast.

These proposals are a revision of proposals first published in 2016 which would have seen Belfast reduced to three constituencies and six new constituencies created - North Tyrone, Glenshane, Dalriada, West Antrim, Upper Bann and Blackwater, and West Down.

Unionist concern

The DUP was heavily critical of these initial proposals, arguing they would cause political instability. There was unionist concern that the 2016 proposals could result in Sinn Féin winning more House of Commons seats than the DUP. In last year’s Westminster election the DUP won 10 seats and Sinn Féin, which does not sit in the House of Commons, won seven. The 18th seat was taken by Independent unionist Lady (Sylvia) Hermon.

The changes are proposed as part of a wider plan to reduce the number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600.

There is no certainty, however, that this will actually happen. The Boundary Commission is putting its Northern Ireland proposals out for public consultation for eight weeks.

The final overall proposals are due to go before Westminster in the autumn, but such are the political uncertainties in Britain, together with British Labour and some Conservative resistance to the proposals, that there is no guarantee they will be enacted.

If the changes do take place then the number of members in the Northern Assembly, should it ever be reinstated, would be reduced from 90 to 85 on the basis of 17 constituencies with five MLAs in each one.

The new proposed Causeway constituency along the north coast would merge part of East Derry, North Antrim and East Antrim. This could be a seat that current East Derry DUP MP Gregory Campbell would target.

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley would be likely to contest Mid Antrim, which takes in the remainder of North Antrim and parts of East Antrim and South Antrim.

A portion of Lagan Valley merges with a section of Strangford, and a small part of South Down, to become Mid Down.

Recontest

South Antrim will take in another part of Lagan Valley, including the populous city of Lisburn. This will raise the question of whether current South Antrim DUP MP Paul Girvan should recontest this constituency or whether Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson should move to South Antrim.

In Britain constituency electoral populations should range between 71,031 and 78,507 voters. Northern Ireland is allowed to deviate from this rule. Five of the North’s constituencies have fewer than 71,031 electors – East Belfast, South Belfast, Mid Antrim, Upper Bann and West Tyrone.