Pushing the boundaries

Mark Devenport
Political editor, Northern Ireland
@markdevenporton Twitter


So now the Boundary Review's proposals are out, it will be up to the politicians to try to persuade the commissioners to change their minds.

Some MPs and MLAs may be very satisfied by the new electoral map - others fear for their futures.

The Commission will hold a 12-week consultation on their plans, ending on 2 December. This will include public hearings in Belfast, Omagh and Ballymena. Then they will submit revised proposals, which will also be subjected to a further period of scrutiny.

Across the UK, the final report is due to be submitted on 1 October 2013. It will then have to be endorsed by parliament, which could be a difficult passage given how many sitting MPs may find themselves in trouble.

If you are one of those MPs, like Alasdair McDonnell or Gregory Campbell, the dilemma is that a simple appeal for clemency on the grounds that you need a job will not cut any ice. Nor will an overtly political argument, as constituencies are not meant to be the property of any one party.

So expect to hear a lot about whether the new areas have a natural sense of identity, whether they make sense in terms of history or geography.

Alasdair McDonnell's contribution on Good Morning Ulster focused on the long tradition of four seats in Belfast and the argument that expanding those constituencies, rather than merging them, would reflect the city's status and natural urban sprawl.

'Passionate defence'

The former Irish diplomat Eamonn Delaney was amusing on this point in his memoir the "accidental diplomat".

He described fighting a proxy battle for the SDLP, carrying out research in order to bolster the argument that Eddie McGrady's Westminster seat should not be axed in a previous review.

"Conveniently ignoring what historical detail didn't suit the case, I drew up a passionate defence of the geographical and historical integrity of South Down," Delaney wrote.

The defence was successful, and in this review South Down is expanding not contracting.

However, the current commissioners do not have the flexibility to simply withdraw their suggestions, as they have been instructed to reduce the number of seats to 16. So whilst a revision may please one politician, it could put another's nose out of joint.

If things do not change then the headline casualties appear to be the SDLP and the DUP.

Nicholas Whyte surmises that whilst the DUP will find it hard to win the new Glenshane seat, a single unionist candidate might stand a chance. This is interesting in as much as we could see some of the machinations which have previously taken place in Fermanagh being repeated in the north west.

Alliance's Naomi Long will fancy her chances in a new South East Belfast seat, but it is still very tight.

It would be fascinating to hear what Peter Robinson makes of the DUP's chances of a comeback on the basis of these boundaries.

Theoretically the new boundaries should be in place for the new Westminster election in May 2015, but that may depend on how heated the debate on the changes gets in the Commons.

The only local polling booths up and running any time soon here are located in Drumalane Mill in Newry. T

he polling station there is nothing to do with the forthcoming Irish Presidential election - instead it is at the Latvian consulate, where Latvians living in Northern Ireland can cast their votes in Saturday's emergency election to the Saeima, the parliament based in Riga.

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