Yesterday, I attended the public consultation by the Boundary Commission regarding the new 2018 proposed Westminster boundary changes.
I made copious notes throughout the presentation and I thought I would share them with you as I was quite surprised at the very poor attendance. There were about 15 people present for the (excellent) presentation plus, of course, the officials from the Boundary Commission itself.
The cast of characters was, in itself, interesting. We had no less than 3 MPs present and an assortment of characters on behalf of various political parties. In fact I believe everyone in the room was representing some party or other. Being only one session of 3 yesterday (12 in total), and bearing in mind that it took place in Belfast, it was not surprising that most of the submissions were Belfast – centric.
It is important to bear in mind that most, if not all, of our political parties will be making detailed written submissions on the proposals prior to the 28 November deadline. These will be published on the Boundary commission website in due course.
The afternoon kicked off with a straightforward, although professional, presentation by Eamonn McConville, secretary of the NI Boundary Commission who explained the remit, methodology and parameters under which the study was undertaken.
This is the point where things got interesting. The floor was then open to verbal submissions from the floor which provided some very interesting insight into the thinkings of our current politicans and parties. If I may, I’ll deal with this in the order in which things played out.
First up was my own local MP, Sylvia Hermon.
Sylvia gave a very good speech and spoke about the close links between the various towns and districts in the North Down area, notably, Bangor, Holywood, Donaghadee and Groomsport. She emphasised the links between local schools, churches and communities and how they are interwoven. She spoke of how those links should be respected and how North Down was essentially a coastal community. Regarding the proposals, she had two points. Firstly, and this was very diplomatically put, she didn’t see the logic of adding the 5 Dundonald wards to North Down and secondly, losing her neighbouring ward around Millisle.and indeed, further down the Ards peninsular, which, to her mind made more sense. She said that clearly she had no objections per-se to adding Dundonald but she was not happy regarding the potential losses along the Ards peninsular. Her difficulty here, which is the same for all vested interests of course, is the knock on effects on the other constituencies, particularly Strangford. Regarding the changes in Belfast, she said she would keep her opinions to herself, possibly wise given what was coming up.
Next up was the SDLP. They were represented by a Father/Daughter double act of Eamonn and Clare Hannah MLA who both spoke in a personal capacity rather than from an official party position..
Essentially they were saying the same thing regarding the boundary proposals although Eamonn gave us a fascinating anecdote about how his grandmother had acted as acted as election agent for Eamonn De-Valera in times past. In a nutshell neither was in favour of the move from four to three seats, not surprisingly given the likely effect upon Alasdairs South Belfast seat. I do know that Alasdair was at the morning session in person but unfortunately I missed that particular highlight. Claire spoke passionately about the absurdity of moving what are clearly South Belfast urban wards into the largely rural new constituency of West Down.
At this point I should state that there was one UUP and one Alliance representative present and although both asked some questions, neither made any submissions from the platform. I am aware, however, of an Alliance position paper which is largely in favour of and supportive of the Belfast boundary proposals. Again, not surprisingly given their enhanced chances of taking the new South East Belfast seat.
I know that there were also 5 SF representatives present. None spoke at this session but I was informed that Alex Maskey was due to attend the evening session. With the prospect of gathering 2 of the 3 Belfast seats at the next election with the current proposals I would expect little criticism as things stand.
Next up it was showtime.
The DUP arrived in force. All sharp suits, busy demeanor and frowns, we were treated to the double whammy of Nigel Dodds and Gavin Robinson giving full vent to their outrage. Yes I know.
Nigel is not a happy bunny. He wants the entire thing ripped up and started again. From scratch. I’ll not go into Unionisms record on drawing up electoral boundaries but the lack of self awareness was stunning.
He started reasonably enough talking about seperating towns from their natural hinterland (Derry anyone?) mentioned local identity (Don’t start me) but unfortunately moved swiftly along to the loss of Rathcoole and parts of Glengormley and Newtownabbey from his own constituency. That’s when the reflexive rhetoric kicked in. A taste of it?
“Very poor”, “Dismemberment”, Basic lack of common sense”, “Unacceptable”, “Unnatural”, people being “Cast out”. I trust you get the idea.
Finally Gavin Robinson had his say.
Well he picked up where Nigel left off, my first notes are “Outrageous”. “Bizarrely contrived” “Unnatural” (again) and “People (in Dundonald) being used as mathematical pawns.” In a nutshell he’s not happy about losing Dundonald and gaining Belvoir.
It was a highly entertaining afternoon in fairness. I think the above may give you all an idea of where the parties stand on these proposals but as always here, we remain vulnerable to the machinations and self interest of the Tories at Westminster. This boundary revision could be voted down by a tiny tory revolt. I have no doubt the DUP will vote against it.
That can’t change soon enough