First response to boundary changes…

Nick Whyte has some excellent highlighted detail on the Boundary Commission‘s latest suggestion for amendments to the Westminster/Assembly boundaries. Those wishing to make representations should do so by 24 June 2006. Nick’s five one liners:

* This is much more modest than the original set of changes in their provisional recommendations.
* I don’t see any significant impact on the next Westminster elections as a result of the new boundaries.
* At Assembly level, the SDLP will lose their current seat in Lagan Valley; but there will now be now a safe Nationalist seat in East Antrim (where the SDLP won an unexpected seat in the 1998 elections, but lost it in 2003).
* The changes to South Belfast, plus last week’s demise of the Women’s Coalition, will put Alliance in a stronger position to win a seat there; though the party still has quite some way to go.

* The entrenchment of six Assembly seats per constituency in the Good Friday Agreement results in the under-representation of voters in Newry and Armagh, North Antrim and Upper Bann, which are all large enough

to warrant a seventh seat at Assembly elections.

  • J Kelly

    After the submissions on the 24th of June, and I’m sure Patricia Lewsley will have one in, when will these recommendations go live.

  • Alan

    And what meaning does this have for Council boundaries?

  • m

    Nicholas, (hope you are reading)

    To connect the review of Local Government with the Westminster/Assembly boundary review.

    The ‘super council’s’ boundaries will have to take into account Westminster boundaries over how many of the new wards are designed. As no ward is allowed to be split across two Westminster constituencies, the edges of the new wards will have to match the edges of the new Westminster constituencies.

    I suspect designing new wards for super councils could be difficult and controversial….unless the review includes moving to a list rather than ward system for selection later…?

    Hope you catch my drift.

  • Stephen Copeland


    what meaning does this have for Council boundaries?

    I wondered the same, but the only possible implication I can think of is for Belfast. There the temptation would be to use the extended Westminster boundaries as the City Council boundary – there would be a certain symetry to that.

  • Stephen Copeland

    …. and of course, implicitly I mean there would be an impact on the other councils surrounding Belfast.

  • m

    Sorry, to clarify(a little) I have assumed that old wards will no longer exist in the proposed new councils and entirely new, much larger, wards will be created. I can’t see any other way to reduce councillor numbers in line with an overall streamlining.

    This could lead to all sorts of complaint and the extra factor of law saying wards cannot fall into two Westminster constituencies creates the difficulty of factoring in the large amount of Westminster Constituency intersections within the proposed new council areas as you create new wards.

  • m,

    The local government boundary commissioners have never had any difficulty in constructing ward boundaries that crossed parliamentary constituency lines, most notably in the early 1970s, of course, when (as now) local government was being completely redrawn immediately after the parliamentary constituencies. So it won’t make any difference.

    (Anyway, the new proposals actually do split the Derryaghy ward between consitutencies!)

    But you are quite right to say that the creation of the new councils will inevitably mean the total redrawing of the wards.


    Yes, I imaging that the new boundaries of Belfast City Council must surely get extended a bit into both Castlereagh and Twinbrook/Poleglass. Not so sure about Newtownabbey.

  • Harry

    We’ve had an historic agreement and now we’re awaiting the outcome of a ‘Boundary Commission’.
    Hmm, where have I heard this before?

  • I have rerun the figures making the most sense I can from the census. On my current estimate the new West Belfast is 0.2% more Catholic, not (as I had first thought) 0.7% less, and Lagan Valley 6.3% more Protestant rather than 5.3%. I think the DUP seat in West Belfast remains marginal but salvageable – the total Unionist vote share actually increased there in 2003 from 1998 – but the SDLP seat in Lagan Valley does not.

  • heres hoping

    does the new boundaries put a bit of pressure on Alex Attwood in the Assembly.

  • hh,

    It makes a tough defence for Alex Atwood slightly tougher.

  • J Kelly,

    Sorry to have missed this question. It will certainly need another few months, but I would expect the new boundaries will be law by the end of this year; certainly in time for any new Assembly election, if there ever is one.

  • m

    Given the demographics of continuing new builds and shifts in the Dunmurry X population (not displayed since 2001 census data). I think that Mr Whyte’s 0.2% (Catholic) increase is an underestimate and Dodd’s seat is under real threat.

    Sinn Féin will be directly challenging the DUP for a seat as opposed to fighting an incumbent SDLP member in Lagan Valley. (now with no chance)

    Though, Lagan Valley won’t have a Nationalist voice at all in the future

  • heres hoping

    m are you saying that Attwood is safe, Lewsley is gone and SF will be fighting for Dodds seat in West Belfast

  • m

    Lewsley is very likely gone regardless of boundary changes in Lagan Valley (she barely hung in last time). Attwood is safe but not expanding (no chance of growth). The West Belfast Assembly battle is back to SF/DUP for the last seat, the suggested changes improve the SF claim.

  • elfinto

    Unfortunately the MP Dodds has had his position reinforced in North Belfast (groans).

  • John Auld

    Firstly it should be pointed out that these are still provisional, not final recommendations, although most, if not all of them, will now become final recommendations in due course. There is still a possibility for a change or two.

    The proposal to split Derriaghy is AFAIK unprecedented in any Boundary Commission proposals. There have occasionally been suggestions to split wards made by individuals and more rarely, Assistant Commissioners but the Commission at large has always rejected them.

    Here the Commission have pretty much broken their own Rule : the rather forbidding Rule 4 (c) which states

    “in Northern Ireland, no ward shall be included partly in one constituency and partly in another.”

    Rule 4(c) is qualified somewhat by part of Rule 5 which states

    “a Boundary Commission may depart from the strict application of rule 4 if it appears to them that a departure is desirable to avoid an excessive disparity between the electorate of any constituency and the electoral quota, or between the electorate of any constituency and that of neighbouring constituencies”

    and Rule 6:

    “A Boundary Commission may depart from the strict application of rules 4 and 5 if special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency, appear to them to render a departure desirable.”

    In the case of Derriaghy, splitting it doesn’t avoid an “excessive disparity” between electorates, nor would there be problems of accessibility if the whole ward was included in either Lagan Valley or Belfast West.

    The proposal to move Glenavy to South Antrim is also very odd as the majority of people at the enquiry seemed to prefer the option of moving Grange, Kells and Glenwhirry to South Antrim while the former option was barely mentioned. It has the disadvantage of lopping off an orphan ward from Lisburn Council as well as leaving a big disparity between South and North Antrim in terms of electorates (nearly 12000 as of most recent figures and growing).

    Elfinto as for Nigel Dodds, he is strengthened at the acquiescence of both the SDLP and Sinn Fein. I submitted a detailed counter-proposal for all of NI which moved Crumlin and Woodvale to West Belfast, however I was quite surprised when I went to the Belfast enquiry to find that no one except Alliance supported it. My proposal was made for tidying up reasons (stupid to have mid Shankill in North and upper and Lower in West) but of course it would have had the unintended consequence of increasing the Nationalist % in North.

    The SDLP at that enquiry were too busy focusing on a strange counter-proposal to extend North Belfast to Monkstown and Jordanstown, strange cos it’s difficult to see how that would have helped them. I guess the dozy shinners opposition to it comes from a desire to take Diane Dodds Assembly seat, something which I suspect will not happen. Reason being that she is now the sitting Unionist MLA and will probably get tactical votes from other Unionists – who will be under considerable pressure not to stand. While Sinn Fein on the other hand would have to balance five candidates ahead of her, sonething which will be very difficult to do with high profile MLAs in Gerry Adams and Babs DeBruin.

    On the other hand, I’m happy enough that my counter proposal to extend North Belfast into Glengormley went through as it makes perfect sense in terms of the geography of the area.

  • elfinto


    I just read the report and I must say I found your arguments to make perfect sense. I do not know what the SDLP were thinking of and, as for the Shinners, they do not appear to have given the idea much thought either.

    The situation regarding the Shankill Road is totally irrational but both unionist and nationalist parties seem to be advocating the status quo. In fact, I’m surprised that the unionists did not try to move the whole Court Electoral Area into North Belfast given their obvious revulsion for the member for Belfast West.

    Dodds got his way on Cloughfern too which is no great surpise to be honest and I see he has his eyes on Monkstown too.

    In my eyes the major flaw with these recommendations is the exclusion of the Hightown Road estates beyond the motorway bridge which are currently part of the Mallusk ward. The people who live in developments like Maydown Village are mainly Catholics from north Belfast who have moved there in the last 10 years and there are very tight connections with both Glengormley and north Belfast. Both SF and the SDLP took their eyes off the ball badly in this instance and I hope they will make strong representations to have this anomaly rectified.

  • If the entire of Court was put into North, what could West take as compensation and (given the reaction about some of the proposals for expansion into Lagan Valley) just what feathers would be ruffled?

  • elfinto

    The recommendations for West Belfast are a clear exmaple of sectarian bias on the part of the Boundary Commission. For example, Dunmurry (75% Catholic) can go West, the Lagmore section of Derrryaghy can go West, but Seymour Hill and the other half of Derryaghy stays in Lagan Valley.

    The same applies for Woodvale and Crumlin where unionists give totally spurious reasons for inlcuding these wards in North. These wards have been excluded from the West solely on sectarian grounds. Thus unionist representation is maximised in North Belfast and Lagan Valley while nationalists are coralled into West Belfast.

    For the third time in 20 odd years the boundaries of North Belfast have been changed to the benefit of the sitting unionist MP. Gerrymandering is alive and well.

  • Chris Donnelly

    I’m afraid some commentators here are in danger of missing the wood for the trees.

    I can fully assure any republicans on the site that Sinn Fein gave countless hours of thought, debate and rancourous debate to this very issue, having been party to much of it myself.

    Regarding West Belfast, I would be extremely confident that Sinn Fein would take 5 seats on the newly proposed boundaries; Dodds’ seat is precarious enough at present, and the SDLP are so weak in West Belfast that even her elimination transfers would probably only push one SDLP MLA across the line.

    In North Belfast, there is no danger to the three nationalist MLA seats, though the Westminster seat appears some way off.

    Elfinto, you appear to ignore the fact that a Sinn Fein MLA in south Antrim is just as good as one in North Belfast. Given that nationalists already have a ‘maximum’ of three in north Belfast, then surely it is advantageous to have an expanding area like Mayfields in South Antrim to increase the prospects for securing a seat there?

    The most peculiar aspect of this report would appear to be the removal of all nationalist districts from Lagan Valley: shifting Glenavy to South Antrim appears to have come from nowhere, whilst ‘partitioning’ the burgeoning Derryaghy wards against the guidelines of the Boundary Commissioners themselves will certainly raise some questions.

  • james andrews

    Chris dont be stupid there will be only one unionist candidate in west belfast which means that Mrs Dodds should be able to get elected fairly easily,however this could change if they cut the number of mlas a distinct possibilty.

  • elfinto


    From reading the submissions to the Commission it appears SF did very little preparation for it.

    Is it now SF policy to make Nigel Dodds MP for life? Would they care to share any such policy with the people of north Belfast who are sick, sore and tired of unionist supremacy? Do north Belfast people give a toss how many MLAs (they should be called DLAs) there are in South Antrim?

    I will repeat what I said before. This is the third time in a row that the Boundary Commission has extended the North Belfast constituency in a way which favours the sitting unionist MP. Back in the old days this was called gerrymandering and one of the demands of the civil rights movement was to end it.

  • Crow

    Some very good points but I’m just not seeing where the votes would come from to make NB within reach for a non-unioist MP. Given that the constituency had to expand to bring up the numbers, the outcome was probably the most benign from a nationalist perspective.

  • elfinto


    I don’t advocate drawing electoral boundaries on sectarian grounds but this is exactly what the boundary commission is doing (to be seen most clearly in Dunmurry, Derryaghy and Seymour Hill).

    Even with the inclusion of the staunch loyalist West Belfast wards of Crumlin and Woodvale (which borders on the Springfield Raod for Chrissake) in the 80s and the addition of four and a half loyalist wards around Rathcoole (Valley being half Catholic) after the last review, the combined nationalist share of the vote was 45% at the last Westminister election. So the seat is potentially within reach.

    I understand the need for extending the boundaries of the consituency but I cannot see for the life of me how loyalist Cloughfern gets included due to a need to repect the territorial integrity of the Macedon DEA and mainly Protestant Ballyhenry and Hightown are to be included due to the territorial integrity of Glengormley village while one side of the Hightown Road area is excluded.

    As I mentioned previously this area is full of north Belfast people. If the integrity of Glengormley is to be respected the whole Hightown Road area should be included. If the Boundary Commission saw fit to divide Derryaghy ward they can do the same with urban and rural Mallusk.

  • John Auld

    Tim, if the whole of court went into North Belfast then Belfast would need to be cut to three seats. As a result it isn’t going to happen given the opposition when they last tried that in 1995.

    ChrisD, I can’t agree with you about 5 Sinn Fein MLAs. Dodds will be the established Unionist MLA, the PUP are unlikely to stand given that they’ve proposed a Unionist pact in the past and the UUP will put up only token opposition (if they even stand at all) which will transfer to Dodds in any case. Dunmurry and Derriaghy have slightly more SDLP voters than the rest of WB, so the SDLP % will be increased. Against that, SF will need to balance five candidates ahead of them. No easy task when they have high profile MLAs.

    ElFinto, I can’t agree about the North Belfast boundary changes being biased the last 3 times. In 1982, they involved catching up with the new ward boundaries and city boundary. Therefore they added the Northern half of Bellevue ward, while at the other end, transferring about 500 nationalist voters in the Henry Street bit of the New Lodge to West, but also transferred what is now Glencairn ward – then about 4500 voters – from North to West. The bulk of Crumlin and Woodvale had been in North since the 1920s. Those changes slightly boosted Nationalists who increased their vote share by 2% between October 1982 (the last on pre-1983 boundaries) and June 1983.

    As for Mallusk, I did argue for it to go to North Belfast at the enquiry, but the objections raised were fair enough – it would leave other bits of South Antrim like Carnmoney a bit cut off. However as you say, if they are now splitting wards then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t split that either.

    ChrisD, the Glenavy change does indeed seem strange, all the more so since it was suggested by an SDLP councillor (!) who has in the process cost his party an MLA in Lagan Valley. The option of moving Kells, Glenwhirry and Grange to South Antrim and leaving the Glens alone would have been much better as it would have equalised electorates a lot more.

  • elfinto


    Your knowledge of these matters is immense (and almost nerd-like!). I bow to your greater wisdom on the 1982 commission.

    Back to the present recommendations:

    The Electoral Quota is 60,969

    North Belfast expands to 64,605 electors
    West Belfast expands to 59,018 electors
    South Antrim expands to 60,950 electors
    East Antrim expands to 59,474 electors

    To conclude:
    North Belfast has been expanded too far, East Antrim and West Belfast – not far enough.

    Dodds got away with way too much and must be rubbing his hands with glee.

    Nationalist parties, instead of demanding the inclusion of part of Mallusk (as I had suggested), should now demand the removal from North Belfast of two wards from Cloughfern, Woodvale and Crumlin (to the benfit of East Antrim and / or West Belfast).

    SF should forget their unrealisable five seat fantasies about West Belfast and start sticking up for those they represent elsewhere before they start getting accused of being parochial.