A guest Blog by Faha analysing the implications of the latest boundary review and the implications for forthcoming Westminster elections. Detailed maps of the proposed changes are not yet available but I will publish links as soon as they are. BD
In February 2016 the electorate statistics for the UK Boundary Review were released and the number of seats allocated to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were announced.
The total size of the Westminster Parliament will be reduced from 650 seats to 600 seats for the 2020 and subsequent elections. Scotland was allocated 53 (loss of 6), Wales (loss of 11), England 501(loss of 32) and Northern Ireland 17 (loss of 1). Northern Ireland will lose only 1 seat compared to the previous suspended review where Northern Ireland would have lost 2 seats.
The reason for the change is that Individual Electoral Registration (IER) was introduced to England, Scotland and Wales in 2014. It had already been in place in Northern Ireland since 2002. The introduction of IER resulted in a decline of over 1,600,000 voters on the December 2015 electoral register compared to the May 2015 register. Northern Ireland increased by 4,000 voters.
The large decline in voters for the December 2015 register, which is the one that will be used for the boundary review, resulted in a lower average for all constituencies which benefited Northern Ireland.
For the Northern Ireland review the average number of voters per constituency is 73,139. A 5% variation is allowed when constructing constituencies so a constituency could have as few as 69,482 or as many as 76,796 voters. The legislation allows for more leeway for Northern Ireland so a constituency could have as many as 78,507 voters. In the previous review the Boundary Review acknowledged this but mentioned that there was no need to use this exception.
The possible boundaries I am outlining are speculative to some extent. However, I believe that the one lost seat will be one of the Belfast constituencies since the number of voters in the new Belfast City Council is the number exactly needed for 3 seats and there is no need to include any wards outside of Belfast.
It is also true that the Boundary Commission attempts to preserve existing constituencies as much as possible and generally avoids transferring voters to a new constituency if at all possible. Nicholas Whyte also did an excellent review on Slugger O’Toole earlier this month.
Fermanagh South Tyrone: 71,038
I will start in the west with Fermanagh South Tyrone. There is no need to change this constituency in any way. There were some minor ward boundary changes when the new council wards were devised. It would consist of all the Fermanagh DEA’s and the Clogher Valley and Dungannon DEA’s.
There is no need to alter Foyle. The only change is that a few hundred voters will be added from the old Slievekirk ward in Strabane which were added to the old Hollymount ward (but renamed Slievekirk).
West Tyrone: 72,899
This would include all the current West Tyrone (except for a few hundred from Slievekirk mentioned above) and add the wards of Park, Claudy, Feeny and Dungiven.
Mid Ulster: 71,501
This would include all of the current Mid Ulster and add the Kilrea and Garvagh wards.
Newry and Armagh: 75,635
This would include all of the current Newry and Armagh wards except Tandragee which would be transferred to Upper Bann. It should be noted that in the previous review the Tandragee ward was the only ward removed from Newry and Armagh.
Upper Bann: 73,585
Upper Bann would consist of all the wards of the old Craigavon council as well as the Tandragee ward and the new Loughbrickland ward. The 4 Banbridge Town wards would be removed and transferred to Lagan Valley. This would keep all the Portadown, Craigavon and Lurgan wards within the same constituency and Banbridge Town would also be kept intact but in a different constituency.
East Londonderry: 71,795
This constituency would undergo significant changes due to the loss of 6 wards to West Tyrone and Mid Ulster. It would include all the remaining wards from East Londonderry and add the wards of Ballycastle, Kinbane, Giant’s Causeway, Dervock, Route and the 3 Ballymoney wards of East North and South. It would probably be renamed to possibly Causeway Coast and Glens.
East Antrim: 74,740
This would include all the wards of the old Larne and Carrickfergus councils as well as the Lurigethan and Torr Head & Rathlin wards to the north as well as the Jordanstown, Rostulla, Monkstown, Abbey, Ballyduff, Ballynure, and the Ballyclare East and West wards. All the current voters in the constituency would remain but a few from the old Hawthorne and Abbey wards would be added with a similar situation in the north with Torr Head as the new wards combine voters from the current East Antrim with voters from outside the current constituency. Only the Ballyclare and Ballynure wards have all their voters that are new to the constituency.
North Antrim: 72,878
This would include all the wards of the old Ballymena council along with the wards north that are currently part of North Antrim-Rasharkin, Clogh Mills, Dunloy and Loughguile&Stranocum. It would also add the wards of Toome, Cranfield, Randalstown, Shilvodan, Parkgate, Doagh and Ballyrobert.
South Antrim: 75,248
This would include the Antrim, Airport, Glengormley Urban and Macedon (except Abbey ward) DEA’s and the Mossley and Fairview wards. The Glengormley Urban wards were actually part of South Antrim 10 years ago but removed during that boundary review and placed in North Belfast. South Antrim would also expand into Lisburn and include the wards of Glenavy, Stoneyford, Ballinderry, Maghaberry, Moira, Maze and Lagan. Since only the more rural wards in Lisburn would be added all the urban wards of Lisburn Town would be kept in the same constituency of Lagan Valley.
Lagan Valley: 74,971
Lagan Valley would lose several rural wards to South Antrim as mentioned above but the core of the constituency would remain. It would include all the Lisburn North, Lisburn South and Downshire East DEA’s as well as the White Mountain, Blaris and Hillsborough wards. It would include the Dromore, Quilly and Gransha wards that are currently in the constituency and add all 4 of the Banbridge Town wards as well as the Rathfriland ward.
Belfast North: 70,215
Belfast North would lose all the Newtownabbey wards to South Antrim. It would consist of the Castle, Oldpark and Court DEA’s as well as the Beechmount and Ballymurphy wards.
Belfast Southwest: 69,856
This would consist of the Collin and Balmoral DEA’s as well as the Black Mountain DEA (except the Ballymurphy and Beechmount wards) and the Blackstaff, Windsor and Central wards.
Belfast Southeast: 72,411
This would consist of the Ormiston, Titanic and Lisnasharragh DEA’s and the Ormeau and Stranmillis wards.
North Down: 74,317
North Down would include all the wards of the old North Down council and the Warren ward. All these wards are part of the current constituency. It would add the Castlereagh East DEA (except the Moneyreagh ward which is currently part of Strangford). In the previous review North Down was extended to include all of the Ards Peninsula. This would not be possible this time since the electorate would be 79,407 which would exceed the maximum allowed. Nicholas Whyte suggested that Loughview ward could be removed to Southeast Belfast in which case North Down could include the Ards Peninsula. Indeed Holywood ward could also be added to Southeast Belfast and North Down would then have 73,444 voters which is just above the quota. I believe this will not happen for 3 reasons. Adding the Ards Peninsula would disrupt the current Strangford constituency by removing 15,000 voters and also add over 27,000 new voters to the constituency. The 2nd reason is that the 5 Dundonald area wards were part of North Down as recently as the 1995 Westminster by-election in North Down. In the subsequent boundary review these wards were transferred to Strangford. In the boundary review 9 years ago they were transferred to East Belfast. The 3rd reason is the knock on effect in Belfast. Adding Loughview and Holywood to East Belfast would result in Stranmillis and Ormeau transferred to Southwest Belfast with the further knock on effect of transferring Turf Lodge ward to North Belfast. The DUP would STRONGLY object to adding another 100% nationalist ward to North Belfast.
Strangford would consist of the Ards Peninsula, Newtownards, Comber and Castlereagh South DEA’s and the Moneyreagh, Saintfield and Derryboy wards. It would lose the Ballynahinch and Kilmore wards to South Down. These wards were previously part of South Down until the review 9 years ago. The Carryduff wards were also part of Strangford until the review 9 years ago. In the recent suspended review Strangford was extended to approximately the current Belfast City line so this would continue that extension.
South Down: 75,522
South Down would lose the Banbridge wards and add the Ballynahinch and Kilmore wards. Those latter 2 wards were part of South Down until removed in the review 9 years ago.
There has been some criticism that the 5 year review of constituencies is too disruptive. However, if the Northern Ireland parties can keep the voter registration levels high then Northern Ireland should remain at 17 constituencies. The number of new voters over a 5 years period would only be 35,000 or 2,000 per constituency. This would result in only minor changes every 5 years and no more disruptive than the previous 10 year reviews.
At this time I will not speculate on the electoral implications of the boundary review until the actual Boundary Commission proposals are released in another 6 months.