The reunification of Ireland is often spoken about as an inevitability, not least here. Of course it is far from an inevitability unless those of us who advocate it are willing to build relationships, develop new ideas and work hard to make it happen.

There is currently a narrative being promoted by the mainstream press and among certain political parties along the lines of making “Northern Ireland work”.

It hasn’t “worked” so far in its 95 year existence and I see no reason to believe it ever will as things currently stand.

It remains a heavily subsidised, socially divided, economic and political backwater. The Brexit result has brought this into sharp focus recently and hopefully, given people pause to think through some of the alternatives.

Tinkering with the existing arrangements is not a solution. New thinking and ideas are required. My own opinion is that the only way ahead is by re-imagining Ireland and developing a blueprint for a new Republic which is inclusive of all of our citizens and adequately protects and provides representation for everyone on this island.

And so to this weeks proposals regarding redrawing the constituency borders. Although it is the Westminster boundaries under review there will inevitably be a knock on effect upon the Stormont boundaries – both are due for a reduction in members elected at the next election round.

Back in 1925 we had a boundary commission tasked with defining the border. It ended up as a fiasco with its findings suppressed until January 1968. The actual border, of course, ended up being the original county boundaries which were first defined in the 16th century. The reasons for this failure included the poorly defined terms of reference, the competing and incompatible expectations of the sponsors (The British and Irish Governments) and the time involved in compiling the report (5 years)

This week, we have the latest attempt at redrawing boundaries by a commission. Of course, the imperative behind this has nothing to do with Northern requirements, it is being driven by a Tory government in westminster seeking to consolidate its electoral advantages. Plus ca Change.new-westminster-boundaries

It has generated considerable comment and analysis over the past few days which I have been reading since my return from Europe midweek.

I would recommend Nicholas Whytes excellent analysis here as a good overview of the likely impact if the new boundaries are implemented in their current form and also this from ex Alliance strategist Gerry Lynch . The Irish News have also done some excellent work here.

In summary:

  • Belfast will be reduced to 3 seats making Alasdair McDonnell’s South Belfast seat obsolete.
  • North Belfast will be expanded and will include the Shankill and Lower Falls wards – this will put Nigel Dodds on very shaky ground in terms of retaining his seat, expect a big SF push.
  • East Belfast, currently held by the deeply unimpressive Gavin Robinson will now include the more mixed areas of Ormeau, Beechill and Rosetta and the lower Ravenhill Road. This should increase the overall nationalist vote and also may benefit Alliance.
  • Foyle and South Down have minimal changes and are therefore likely to remain safe SDLP territory.
  • Fermanagh South Tyrone loses Dungannon and gains some solidly nationalist voting areas to the west which puts Tom Elliot in serious trouble, I would predict this seat going solidly in the direction of SF given the tightness of previous elections here.
  • A new constituency of West Antrim including Ballymena and Ballymoney – solid DUP territory
  • The new constituency of Upper Bann and Blackwater, which stretches west from Portadown to Dungannon looks to be also safe for the DUP
  • Glenshane, lovely name that, which puts Gregory Campbell and his old East (L)Derry seat in question by including Magherafelt and excluding solidly unionist leaning Coleraine.

Therefore my initial thoughts are that we are looking at 8 Unionist and 8 Nationalist seats plus Sylvia in North Down.

Needless to say Unionists are not happy with this. Hardly surprising given their record of boundary manipulation and gerrymandering in the past.

“They’ve carried out major surgery in areas where there was no need to,” said Tom Elliot

Adrian McQuillan, MLA says with remarkable insight: “I think it’s a bit ridiculous. It’s just another way of getting rid of the name Londonderry.”

I can’t wait to see what Nigel Dodds and Gregory Campbell have to say. (Update – Nigel has responded)

The fact remains however, that these proposals are now open to discussion, consultation and possible revision prior to November .

The public consultations are scheduled for:  Tullyglass hotel, Ballymena on October 5; Silverbirch hotel, Omagh on October 11; Ramada hotel, Shaw’s Bridge, Belfast on October 20; and Seagoe hotel, Portadown on October 25. Each hearing will have three sessions running from 10am-1pm; 2pm-4pm; and 6pm-8pm.(c. Irish News)

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