The Boundary Commission released their revised recommendations this week for the new 17 Northern Ireland constituencies.

I will analyze the changes and how they will affect the Westminster and Assembly elections that are currently scheduled for 2022. First I wish to give some background on the Boundary Review. The current UK Boundary Review was begun in March 2016 and was based on the December 2015 Parliamentary electoral register. The number of seats in Westminster is to be reduced from 650 to 600 with Northern Ireland dropping from 18 to 17. The revised proposals have already been released for England, Scotland and Wales. As it currently stands this review is unlikely to pass in Westminster.New Boundary Commission Map

There have been several reports from the Conservative Party that the estimated 15 Conservative MP’s who would lose their seats will vote against the proposals. There are others who will have radical changes to their constituencies. It only will take 5 defections for the Review to fail. It appears there may be new legislation to redo the Review but with 650 seats. This will not affect Northern Ireland since the proposals released this week are likely to be very close to the final proposals. If it is redone with 650 seats Northern Ireland will still only have 17 seats. The reason for this is that a new review would be based on the 2018 electoral register. The Northern Ireland December 2015 register was 1,243,369 voters and the January 2018 register is 1,242,444 voters. That is a decline of 955 voters in 2 years.

The total UK register was 44,722,000 in December 2015 and increased to 46,800,000 at the time of the June 2017 Westminster election. It is now over 47,000,000. Since the Northern Ireland register has declined while the total UK register has increased by 2.5 million, Northern Ireland is currently entitled to 17.1 seats with a 650 seat Parliament. So Northern Ireland will have 17 seats if the current review passes and 17 seats if it is redone with a new review. One commentator noted in 2016 that if the current review had been based on the March 2016 register (when the Review actually began) Northern Ireland would have had only 16 seats. It barely qualified for 17 seats in the current Review.

I will analyze each constituency and project any changes for the 2017 Westminster and Assembly elections based on those changes. I will begin with the southern and western constituencies as these have minor changes.

South Down

There were only a few minor ward changes on the edge of the constituency.

Catholic       Protestant         Other         None

Current                      69.26%             26.85%         0.52%         3.36%

New                            68.66%             27.53%         0.52%         3.29%

The Catholic population will be only 0.6% lower. The Westminster election would still be a SF MP and the Assembly would be 2 SF, 2 SDLP and 1 DUP.

Newry and Armagh

The heavily unionist wards of Laurelvale and Tandragee were transferred to Upper Bann.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current                       66.36%            30.59%            0.55%         2.55%

New                             69.43%            27.69%            0.54%         2.35%

There would be a 3% increase in the nationalist vote with a SF MP and 3 SF, 1 SDLP and 1 DUP in the Assembly.

Upper Bann

Laurelvale and Tandragee wards were added to the constituency and the Banbridge town wards were transferred to the new Mid Down.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current                         44.00%            49.99%             0.88%         5.14%

New                               43.72%            50.30%             0.92%         5.06%

Minimal demographic changes. The Banbridge wards that were removed have a UUP vote that was much higher than the DUP vote in 2014 council election. The SDLP vote is also slightly higher than the SF vote. The DUP will have an even larger plurality in the Westminster election. The Assembly would still be 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SF and 1 SDLP. The SDLP will benefit from the large excess of available transfers from unionist parties.

Fermanagh South Tyrone

There were some minor ward boundary changes here that actually have a significant influence on a Westminster election. A net of 600 unionist voters (500 voting) were transferred to Upper Bann and a net of 1,200 nationalist voters (900 voting) were transferred inform nearby Dungannon wards.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current                         57.69%            39.10%             0.61%         2.60%

New                               58.57%         38.27%             0.59%         2.57%

Although the ward boundary changes were minor they would result in 500 fewer unionist votes and 800 more SF votes in a Westminster election. Michelle Gildernew would have won by a margin of over 2,000 votes. The days of a unionist unity candidate winning here appear to be over. The Assembly would be 3 SF, 1 DUP and 1 UUP.

West Tyrone

The 3 wards of Banagher, Claudy and Feeny were added from East Derry. A section of Slievekirk was transferred to Foyle.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current                         67.98%            30.16%             0.40%         1.47%

New                               69.34%       28.84%             0.39%         1.44%

The constituency is even more nationalist than previously. SF would still win Westminster with a larger margin and the Assembly would be 3 SF 1 SDLP and 1 DUP.

Foyle

A net of 800 unionist voters (600 voting) were transferred from the Slievekirk ward.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current                         75.12%            22.02%             0.79%         2.07%

New                               74.31%         22.79%             0.79%         2.11%

Eamonn McCann of PBP lost this seat to the DUP by 660 votes with an undistributed SDLP surplus of 160 votes and over 800 votes from nationalist candidates that transferred to no one. If 2/3 had transferred to PBP he would have won. However, with these new boundaries adding 600 unionist voters the DUP would win under any scenario.

Mid Ulster

Small sections of wards were transferred to Fermanagh South Tyrone and 4 nationalist majority wards (Upper Glenshane, Dungiven, Garvagh and Kilrea) were transferred in.

 

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current                         66.72%            30.78%             0.44%         2.06%

New                               66.67%            30.84%             0.43%         2.06%

The demographics are unchanged here and so are the election results with a SF MP and 3 SF, 1 SDLP and 1 DUP in the Assembly.

 

Causeway

Causeway is a newly named constituency that is a merger of parts of East Derry and North Antrim. Most of the Catholic majority wards of East Derry were removed which significantly reduced the Catholic percentage of this new constituency. The wards added were from Moyle and the Ballymoney town and nearby wards.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current (East Derry)          41.70%           53.27%             0.68%         4.35%

New                                      33.52%           60.83%             0.74%         4.91%

Gregory Campbell would win a Westminster election with well over 50% of the vote. It is likely there would be only one nationalist MLA (SF) since it appears that the SDLP candidate would be over 1,000 votes behind the 3rd DUP candidate on the final count. There would have been 3 DUP, 1 Independent Unionist and 1 SF elected in an Assembly election.

East Antrim

This constituency will have significant changes with the loss of 1 nationalist ward in Moyle and the addition of 7 heavily unionist wards in Newtownabbey (4 of the Ballyclare wards plus Hawthorne, Ballyduff and Mossley).

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current                         20.39%            70.11%             0.97%         8.53%

New                               16.63%           74.06%             0.86%          8.44%

Sammy Wilson will easily win this seat for the DUP. The Catholic population will be almost 4% less so there is no hope here for a nationalist Assembly seat. There would have been no change in the Assembly election with 2 DUP, 2 UUP and 1 Alliance.

Mid Antrim

This new constituency is mainly the Ballymena wards and some of the Ballymoney wards from the current North Antrim with the Dunsilly DEA wards added from South Antrim.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current (North Antrim)        28.39%            66.03%             0.74%         4.84%

New                                         30.28%             64.15%             0.72%         4.85%

The Catholic population is 2% higher and those nationalist voters in Dunsilly vote at a higher rate than those removed from the Ballymoney wards. Even so, the SDLP would have been 1,500 votes short of a quota. The Assembly vote would have been 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 TUV and 1 SF. Ian Paisley would easily win the Westminster election.

South Antrim

The new South Antrim is a merger of half of the current South Antrim with half of the Lagan Valley constituency.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current (South Antrim)         31.86%            59.80%             0.87%         7.46%

New                                          28.62%            61.86%             0.98%          8.53%

Paul Girvan of the DUP would easily win the Westminster election as the new boundaries are even more favourable to the DUP with the addition of the Lagan Valley wards. There would have been 2 DUP and 1 UUP in the Assembly election. The Alliance candidate would have been ahead of both the SF and SDLP candidates and would add to that margin with unionist transfers. SF appear to be 400 votes ahead of the SDLP but the SDLP would have won the 5th seat on unionist transfers.

Mid Down

Mid Down is a new constituency. The majority of the wards are from the current Strangford (minus the Ards Peninsula which was transferred to North Down). Other wards were added from Lagan Valley, South Down and Upper Bann.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current (Strangford)        17.28%            73.13%             0.94%         8.65%

New                                    17.69%            73.86%             0.80%          7.57%

Both the Catholic and Protestant populations are slightly higher but basically no demographic change. It is likely that Jeffrey Donaldson will compete here since part of the Lagan Valley constituency is within this new one. He would easily win the Westminster election. There would be 3 DUP, 1 UUP and 1 Alliance elected in the Assembly election.

North Down

The entire Ards Peninsula DEA was added to North Down and 3 wards were transferred to East Belfast

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current                         12.59%            74.44%             1.15%         11.83%

New                               14.61%            73.47%             1.07%         10.86%

The changes here would have had profound consequences if these boundaries were in place for the 2017 Westminster election. The addition of the Ards Peninsula would have added over 5,000 votes to the DUP, 1,000 to the UUP and 1,000 to the Alliance party.  There was no UUP candidate so most of those votes would have gone to Sylvia Hermon with perhaps a few tactical Alliance votes also. Sylvia Hermon only won by 1,200 votes but would have lost by over 3,000 votes. The wards that were transferred to East Belfast were also area where Sylvia Herman polled well. Jim Shannon will be the candidate here and should win easily. There is a 2% increase in the Catholic population but still far below a quota. The Assembly would return 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance and 1 Green.

North Belfast

The 90% unionist wards of Woodvale and Crumlin were transferred to West Belfast but the equally unionist wards of Monkstown, Carmoney and Burnthill were added in along with the mixed Mallusk ward so the demographics are unchanged.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current                         46.94%            45.67%             1.04%        6.36%

New                               46.95%            45.15%             1.15%        6.75%

Even though the Catholic population is unchanged the demographics are slightly less favourable for SF since Catholics in Newtownabbey have a greater tendency to vote SDLP or Alliance compared to those in the Belfast wards. Nigel Dodds would have won with a slightly higher margin. The Assembly would still be 2 SF, 1 SDLP and 2 DUP.

West Belfast

Wet Belfast will experience dramatic demographic changes with the addition of the heavily unionist Woodvale, Crumlin, Seymour Hill and Lambeg wards. The mixed Derryaghy South wards was also added.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current                         80.09%            16.64%             0.58%        2.69%

New                               69.70%            26.18%             0.67%        3.45%

The Catholic population has dropped over 10% due to the addition of heavily unionist wards. This will not affect the Westminster results. However, there will be more than enough unionist votes here for a DUP MLA at the expense of SF. The result would be 3 SF, 1 PBP and 1 DUP.

Belfast South

Similar to Belfast West 3 heavily unionist wards (Cregagh, Drumbo and Moneyreagh) were added to South Belfast.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current                         44.01%            43.65%             2.80%         9.54%

New                               42.00%            45.82%             2.71%         9.48%

The Catholic population will decrease by 2% and the Protestant population will increase by over 2%. In 2017 the DUP won the Westminster election by 2,000 votes. If these new boundaries were in place last year the margin would have increased to 5,000. The Assembly results would also change. The second DUP candidate was only 58 votes behind the UUP when she was eliminated. Her surplus elected the other DUP candidate. There was an undistributed DUP surplus of 1,500 votes which were never distributed since the UUP candidate was 1,540 votes behind the Green candidate Clare Bailey. However, these new wards would have added over 2,000 votes to the 2nd DUP candidate and the UUP candidate would have been eliminated. I estimate that the Green candidate would have lost by over 1,000 votes. The Assembly vote would have resulted in 1 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance and 2 DUP.

Belfast East

Belfast East added 3 wards from North Down. Cregagh ward was removed and Hillfoot added.

Catholic        Protestant         Other          None

Current                         12.70%            75.40%             1.44%         10.47%

New                               14.09%            73.83%             1.43%         10.65%

There is a slight increase in the Catholic population but these are Catholics from North Down who are voting Alliance or Green. The DUP would easily win the Westminster election. The Assembly would be the same with 2 DUP, 1 UUP and 2 Alliance.

The final Westminster results would be 10 DUP and 7 SF. This is in contrast to the initial Boundary Review proposals in which the results would have been 9 SF and 8 DUP. For the Assembly there would be 5 fewer MLA’s due to the loss of one constituency. If last year’s Assembly election had been with these boundaries the results would have been:

SF                     25      (-2)

SDLP                11      (-1)

PBP                    1

Alliance             7      (-1)

Green                 2     (-1)

DUP                 29      (+1)

UUP                  9       (-1)

TUV                   1

Unionist           1

The total number of unionist MLA’s would be unchanged at 40 and the 5 eliminated seats would have been 2 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance and 1 Green.

One does not need to be politically astute to see that these new proposals will obviously benefit only 1 party- the DUP, at the expense of nationalist and nonsectarian parties. That is the definition of gerrymandering. SF has already noted this publicly. You will note in my analysis that the southern and western constituencies do not have any net gain of electors since overall they are not short of the required minimum. Several heavily unionist constituencies in the Belfast region such as Strangford, East Belfast, North Down and East Antrim needed to add significant numbers of voters. If it were a truly random process one would expect that the added wards would result in nationalist representation in some of these 4 where none exists currently. Indeed the initial proposals in 2016 added enough nationalist voters to East Belfast and Strangford so there would be nationalist MLA’s elected. There would have been only 2 constituencies, East Antrim and North Down, without nationalist representation. However, these new proposals would result in no nationalist representation in 4 constituencies: Mid Down, East Belfast, East Antrim and North Down. Currently there is one constituency with no unionist representation, West Belfast. There is 2nd, Foyle, on the verge of no unionist representation. These new proposals added enough unionist voters to those 2 constituencies to elect 2 DUP MLA’s. Thus while unionists will be represented in all constituencies there will be no nationalist representation in 4 constituencies. That is how you define gerrymandering.

These proposals will only increase the disillusionment for the political system among nationalist and indeed nonsectarian voters. In 2016 the UK voted to Leave the EU yet 90% of Northern Ireland nationalist voters and 85% of nonsectarian voters voted Remain in Northern Ireland. There will be no Northern Ireland MEP’s after the May 2109 European Parliament election so Northern Ireland will have no representation in Europe. The new District Council boundaries were gerrymandered by the DUP with the result that 3 nationalist councils were transferred to unionist controlled councils while no unionist councils were transferred to nationalist control. Unfortunately, SF went along with that DUP gerrymander. SF cannot make that mistake again with these proposals. Along with the Irish Language act, the status of Northern Ireland outside of the EU and other important issues it is now imperative that SF include the Boundary Review in all negotiations with the DUP and Conservative Party. One possibility would be to have a separate Boundary Commission for the Assembly constituencies. The Chairman of the current Boundary Commission is the Speaker of the House of Commons who originated from the Conservative Party. There should be a representative from the Dail in the Republic of Ireland as a Co Chairman so the Commission would have representation from the nationalist side also

At the suggestion of Enda over at “endgame in Ulster” I’m including the below details from the Boundary Commission website on how to contact/ respond to the consultation – BD 

How to respond

Complete our online consultation at www.bcni2018.uk(external link opens in a new window / tab)

Email your views to: review@boundarycommission.org.uk

Post your views to: Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland, The Bungalow, Stormont House, Stormont Estate, Belfast, BT4 3SH

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