SDLP sponsoring Poots’ boundary skulduggery?

Over on OConall Street, Conall McDevitt notes that the gerrymandering row developing over the decision of the Environment Minister to reject the final recommendations of the Local Government Boundary Commissioner, would appear to have been partially motivated by a desire to mollify the complaints of unionist representatives in Castlereagh, angered at the anticipated loss of the rate income from the Forestside shopping centre. Such political skulduggery is also in evidence at the other end of the new Lisburn/ Castlereagh DUP fiefdom, but this time Minister Poots has been able to claim that the SDLP have supported his decision to reject the final recommendations of the Local Government boundary commissioner and unilaterally redraw the electoral boundaries between the new Lisburn/ Castlereagh council to incorporate the village of Dunmurry. Without any hint of irony, however, the SDLP are clear about the reason why they want the Minister to ignore the Boundary Commissioner’s recommendations: to keep enough nationalists in Lisburn for them to get elected.The development comes after the Minister claimed in a leaked letter that the schedule for the introduction of the new councils was under threat unless his plan to redraw the boundaries was accepted at Executive level.

Claiming the right to make this “modest adjustment,” Mr. Poots has claimed that both the Alliance Party and the SDLP joined the unionist parties in pushing him to draft these changes. Edwin Poots has claimed he is entitled to make such changes, in spite of the Boundary commissioner’s ruling following hearings in which all objections were raised and assessed, because he was privy to “strong local opposition….expressed which was not heard by the Boundary Commission.”

One need hardly wonder about whether or not that opposition emanated from ‘the community’ that is currently in need of ‘confidence.

Of course, the nature of this ‘strong local opposition’ is misleading.

Dunmurry is a predominantly nationalist village, with Sinn Fein receiving the largest share of the vote in the area.

Gauging local sentiment, in this incident, would appear to be a most subjective business. Dunmurry Community Association, as can be seen by this stinging attack on the local Sinn Fein MLA for having the temerity to criticise the siting of a loyalist bonfire on council property in the village, is strongly identified with the minority unionist population of Dunmurry village- including the Seymour Hill estate, which is in a different electoral ward set to remain within Lisburn boundaries. Suggesting that this body is speaking on behalf of the majority of Dunmurry residents when it echoes the Minister’s calls is misleading in the extreme.

There are a number of motivating factors driving the Minister at this stage.

Firstly, there is the local pressure being exerted within the unionist fraternity in Castlereagh and Lisburn. Having failed to convince the Boundary Commissioner to draw the boundaries to suit their needs, DUP councillors and MLAs must feel like they have a second chance to tailor the new electoral boundaries to match their preferences.

Secondly, there is the strong desire by unionist politicians in Lisburn to prevent Dunmurry village being dragged along with the rest of Dunmurry Cross into a Belfast where it would likely form a part of a District Electoral Area dominated by republicans (as it currently is, in any case, and the world hasn’t ended, but there you go…)

Thirdly, there is the bigger picture concern from unionist political leaders that Belfast is inexorably sliding towards a majority nationalist demographic profile (hence the strong- but ultimately failed- push to have Rathcoole brought into the city boundaries.) Cutting off even a mixed ward like Dunmurry (minus Blacks Road anyway) would at least serve the useful purpose of marginally setting back the ‘demographic decline’ in evidence.

Whatever about the pressures facing the Minister, there is obviously a bigger issue at stake here, and that is the right of a Minister- from the DUP, or anyone else- to alter the final recommendations of the non-partisan boundary commissioner because those recommendations don’t either suit his personal or party political agenda. The fact that he can shield behind the expressed support of other political parties with similarly transparent electoral ambitions should be irrelevant.

Given the history of gerrymandering within the state it is somewhat bizarre that local SDLP representatives would not pause to think about just how their actions would be interpreted by the communities they purport to represent.

Perhaps that explains the current predicament of the SDLP in a nutshell.

For Sinn Fein, it will be important to hold the line on this matter. Conceding the right of the Minister to interfere so blatantly in the already delicate process of redrawing electoral boundaries would be a serious mistake which would further undermine confidence in the party’s ability to arrest the DUP agenda.

Time will tell….

  • picador

    Another nail in the SDLP coffin, eh?

  • Banner

    SF position is crystal clear Chris – below:

    Sinn Féin responds to Poots on RPA

    November 13, 2009

    Responding to the comments by DUP Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, on his leaked letter to the deputy First Minister and First Minister about local government reform, Sinn Féin MLA Paul Butler said:

    “In his letter, Edwin Poots has now coupled his demand to gerrymander one small section of Boundary Commission recommendations with threats to crash the entire process of local government reform.

    “Sinn Féin will not tolerate selfish unionist attempts to interfere with boundaries that were independently redrawn.

    “Observers will surely question whether a conflict of interest exists for Edwin Poots in holding the entire RPA process to ransom over the single demand that one boundary affecting his own Lisburn constituency should be changed.”ENDS

    Editor’s Note:

    Edwin Poots letter to OFMdFM this week was headed “Local Government Boundaries”..

    Poots’ letter states: “If agreement cannot be achieved in relation to local government boundaries by the date of the next Executive… the consequence of that would be the collapse of the reform process as currently constituted”.

    Now, over to the SDLP.

  • Truth seekers


    An SF blogger quoting a DUP Minister to attack the SDLP. Me thinks this is more a case of the the SDLP being spinned against then sinning.

    What Chris has not said is that SF on Belfast City Council have gone along with Mr Poots proposals. But there you go!

  • Truth seekers


    SF’s poistion in Lisburn seems clear. Problem is it is at total odds with the SF council groups position as experssesd at a recent meeting between Belfast City Council and Minister Poots. Then they supported Mr Poots proposed swap of Forestside for Dundonals Ice Bowl. Seems to me nobody can claim the political high ground on this one.

  • Garza

    Natioanlist gerry-mandering eh?

  • Garza


  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Truth seekers,

    re. “What Chris has not said is that SF on Belfast City Council have gone along with Mr Poots proposals. But there you go! ”

    do you mean have gone along with position outlined by Chris ? or in relation to “Then they supported Mr Poots proposed swap of Forestside for Dundonals Ice Bowl” Has this later change actually been incorporated in the new plans?


    Why does it not suit the SDLP for this move to Belfast to take place?

  • Banner

    Truth seekers (strange plural, but there you go) – you are all really missing the point, presumably because its a Saturday morning.

    Anyone is entitled to have an opposing view to the Boundary Commissioner and lobby for their view. Thats politics. Fair enough.

    The point in this case is that – six months after the Boundary Commission’s final review – Poots has suddenly, in the middle of November and weeks before big deadlines, made his single demand for one Boundary change in his own constituency as the absolute precondition for the entire RPA local government process to proceed. Plus he’s threatened to crash it if he doesn’t get his way.

    Having a view and lobbying for it is one thing. But holding everything to ransom over one’s own council constituency – while serving as the relevant Minister – is quite another. It raises very serious questions.

    Poots has made a massive political mistake. Sinn Féin’s statement nails the issue – the SDLP now need to do likewise.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Banner is correct.

    Anyone who follows- or partakes in- the lengthy process that is the review of electoral boundaries will know that political parties try to find all sorts of ‘legitimate’ reasons to articulate a case before the boundary commissioner for their proposals to be adopted.

    That comes with the territory. It is then up to the Commissioner to determine from his/her own research and from the proposals brought forward from individuals and parties just how to proceed.

    What is different here is that, having put all of the information in front of the Boundary Commissioner- including the complaints from ‘some residents’ in Dunmurry, complete with petition- and still not been able to convince the Commissioner to adopt the DUP’s preferred electoral boundaries, Poots has taken it upon himself to wield the gerrymanderer’s knife.


    I know not of Belfast City Council’s stated position, or of individual councillors therewithin.

    Even if it is the case that Sinn Fein councillors there have indicated their support for Poots’ decision, it doesn’t deflect the significance of the Minister’s actions; rather, it would illustrate- as I’ve pointed out before– precisely why Sinn Fein need to get their house in order.

  • Chris Donnelly


    To answer your question:

    The SDLP in Lisburn believe they can take a council seat in north Lisburn if the Dunmurry end of Dunmurry Cross is annexed back into the new Lisburn/ Castlereagh Council.

    Thereafter, they believe they can use this council seat to build towards an Assembly seat (a very tall ask, mind you, given that the three largest nationalist districts of the former Lagan Valley- namely, Lagmore, Blacks Road and Glenavy ward- are all soon to be parts of other constituencies.)

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    thanks for that. That implies that the “Dunmurry end of Dunmurry Cross ” contains some of their voters who must also boost the party’s chances in Belfast if they are not annexed back.

    Why dont you as a representative of the vast Slugger media empire drop the SDLP an email and ask them, on behalf of Slugger, if they agree that Pootsy should not now, six months after the Boundary Commission’s final review, be pursuing this issue – as I noticed recently that Eamonn Mallie recently got a qoute from the TUV on this basis.

  • LGO

    In the meantime, the very real issue of the halting of the council aspect of RPA looms large. Chris has posted three issues. There is a fourth – an increasing number of people at all levels who are actually starting to realise that this aspect of RPA is a farce, and a costly one which yields no real savings.

    And this just provides a handy means of delaying the overall process.

    Don’t be surprised if the council RPA issue ends up on the back burner for another few years.

  • John

    Fuck’s sake – after all the SDLP used to stand for when John Hume and Ivan Cooper were running things, I’m finding it hard to believe they could possibly support anything that could even be remotely conceived as gerrymandering.

    If any borders change it will be an absolute disgrace.

  • GavBelfast

    DUP, SF and SDLP in-fighting on the issue sounds like a rare example of THREE bald men fighting over a comb.

    PS. Loving the conveniently primed sock-puppets on this thread. 😉

  • JoMax

    As an SDLP supporter, I believe that the party centrally took its eye off the ball over the Mackenzie review. It’s a bad situation when a local councillor is purportedly speaking for them on what is a very narrowly focused issue. The party centrally should be calling the shots.

    On the bigger picture, SF also took its eye off the ball in its desperation to agree something, anything with the DUP. In relation to Belfast Council DUP/SF agreed to extend west and east, but not south and north so that they would be the two major parties. That is why SF connived at the decision to leave out Newtonbreda, Galwally, Beechill, etc. from Belfast. In their rush to agreement, SF sold the nationalist majority councils of Armagh, Limavady and Moyle very short.

    Poots is acting disgracefully and, once you begin to hear tslk about splitting a single ward, you can smell “gerrymander” a mile off. I smell a judicial review coming on. The conflict of interest is glaring.

    On Lagan Valley generally, the sectarian breakdown is about 15% under the new boundaries, not enough for an Assembly seat. However, that is based on a headcount a decade ago, which is the last information anybody has. I suspect that the sectarian balance has shifted a bit in the last decade with a fair few Catholic owner-occupiers moving into the general Lisburn area.

    If he works at it, someone good like Matt McDermott (or even Chris Donnelly) could be looking at an Assembly seat the election after next. But, it needs work and someone to repair the damage done to the SDLP support base by the awful Lewsley who, politically speaking, was a waste of oxygen.

  • picador

    The silence from the SDLP is deafening.

  • I’m more worried about how Sinn Féin agreed for my own council area in Limavady to be subsumed into Coleraine, Moyle and Ballymoney.

  • J Kelly

    its unbelievable to listen to the sdlp and their supporters attempting to move the issue.

    Simple question do you support the dup to gerrymander lisburn for their and your thier and your own selfish ends.

  • J Kelly

    sorry typo

  • north coast

    “I’m more worried about how Sinn Féin agreed for my own council area in Limavady to be subsumed into Coleraine, Moyle and Ballymoney.”

    Why’s that, then?

  • GavBelfast

    The sock-puppets aren’t here to answer queries like that, 1967.

  • Danny O’Connor

    The whole concept of this review was that in any new council there would be power sharing and that no district would have a minority of less than 20%,this has not happened.In my area Larne is being merged with Carrick and Ballymena which will mean that Nationalists are a tiny minority,as opposed to Ballymena and Moyle, which would have given a greater balance.
    This is part of the outworking of SF’s stated policy of greening the west,they are happy to abandon nationalists in the east as it has led to the situation where the Unionists wont need to worry about power sharing because the DUP/SF politburo has ensured that the little sectarian carve up will mean that there is not enough of a critical mass to elect any.
    I dont see anything wrong with standing up for people who are about to be disenfranchised.
    It appears that the position ofthe sdlp in Lisburn on this issue is the same as the position of sf in Belfast.
    It seems that some people are trying to ride two horses.

  • Long John Silver

    I am a nationalist dunmurry resident, and wa delighted to b moving into Belfast. I am a SDLP sympathiser, and though I have found this thread slightly difficult and think more clarification is needed, I would be disgusted were the party start to engage in this self-interested (albeit deluded) way.

  • I think the SDLP are right on this one. Dunmurry Village is majority nationalist and will ensure a nationalist seat on the new Lisburn/Castlereagh Council. The logic behind SF failing to stand by the Nationalists in Dunmurry must be their greater desire to have Belfast turned ‘green’. Whatever Poot’s motivation the fact remains Dunmurry is needed to have enough off a minority on the new Council to have ‘call-in’ powers.

  • J Kelly

    Danny it seems and appears you are not fully up to speed on this issue, would you not be better off getting some facs from your colleagues rather than coming on here trying to fudge the issue by blaming sf for the worlds ills. Danny answer the simple question above with facts not virws or opinions.

  • Chris Donnelly


    Unfortunately you are wrong on a lot of fronts there.

    Firstly, the only way that each council could have had a minimum minority of 20% would have been if the 7 Council model had’ve been endorsed, as originally recommended by the Commissioner.

    You may remember: Sinn Fein stood alone in supporting that proposal.

    Under the 11 and 15 council models advocated by the SDLP, there would not have been any plausible way of forming councils in areas such as east Antrim and north Down with the minimum minority of nationalists.

    Your predicament is the outworking of your own party’s refusal to support Sinn Fein’s support for the 7 council model.

    Kinda ironic, isn’t it?

    Dunmurry Observer
    There is some justification for what you say; but, remember, nationalists in Lisburn would likely obtain representation from the north Lisburn area without Dunmurry due to demographic changes there (the impressive SDLP vote in 2005 was reached with minimial effort on behalf of the party.)

    Also, there will be a nationalist elected from the former Killultagh district, as well as (likely) two from the former Castlereagh Council area. So the argument regarding nationalist representation doesn’t quite hold up.

  • [i]Why’s that, then?[/i]

    Because Limavady is geographically distinct, and culturally and politically very different from Coleraine and the Causeway Coast in general. It will be very difficult for people to identify with a council possibly based away over in County Antrim. Places like Greysteel, Park and Claudy identify more with Derry, and Limavady and its hinterlands constitute enough of a homogeneous bloc to distinguish them from both Derry and Coleraine.

  • north coast

    Well you’ll have to fit in somewhere, 1967. And you have a better fighting chance with the Causeway Coast than you would with the Derry/Strabane bloc. On several fronts, actually.

    But you’ll find little parts all over who feel they should be a breed apart or better off with one than another.

    Twenty years from now – as in 1973 – no one will care.

  • Danny O’Connor

    Why not move rathcoole into Belfast as well if that is your rationale – after all it is part of the north Belfast constituency,lines have to be drawn somewhere.SF proposals for 7 councils still would not have delivered any balance in the proposals for here as the small nationalist majority in Moyle would have been hugely outnumbered by the unionist majorities in Larne,Ballymena,Ballymoney,Coleraine.
    These councils are already working on thePeace and Dard European money.

  • Danny O’Connor

    what position are you taking, SF appear to have adifferent position in Lisburn to the one they hold in Belfast.

  • Mark McGregor

    Funny thing was as Poots moved between the proposed boundary and his boundary he missed the very natural green field boundary enforced by LCC for many years, that also has a busy road but would have properly brought Seymour Hill and Derriaghy into Belfast along with Dunmurry. The Green line Unionist planners created to keep Catholics out of their ‘city’ has become the natural boundary and one that should make Belfast more nationalist. Tough luck.