THE DUP has accused the Boundary Commission of gerrymandering in a fierce attack on its proposals to reduce the number of Westminster seats to 16.
Belfast would lose one seat – creating a proposed South East constituency leaving out the mainly unionist Dundonald and Braniel areas – and another would go west of the Bann. Concern has also been expressed about the boundaries around the towns of Ballymena, Coleraine and Carrickfergus.
The commission rejected the DUP smear.
The DUP submission said: “Overall the commission’s proposals have a disproportionately negative impact upon unionism. The effect permeates the proposals, leading to the conclusion that it is no accident.”
Arguments around changes to the boundaries of the proposed three Belfast constituencies centre on whether Upper Braniel, nearby areas and Dundonald are included in Belfast South East or Strangford.
The DUP submission said the proposals were “atrocious”.
“The term gerrymander is one that should not be quickly or lightly thrown about by anyone. However, in terms of the proposed South East Belfast the DUP feels that it can legitimately be used both in terms of the boundary with South West (Belfast) and Strangford.”
The proposals would create three constituencies in Co Antrim – South Antrim, Mid Antrim and North Antrim – which would take Coleraine from East Londonderry. This would separate Ballymena from Antrim and place it in the same constituency as Larne.
The DUP said the proposals cut Ballymena and Coleraine from their natural hinterlands in a “brutal” division.
“The set of proposals produced for Northern Ireland are of no surprise to the DUP,” it said.
“No satisfaction is drawn from the fulfilment of the DUP prophecy on this matter and the set of atrocious proposals produced.”
East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell’s constituency would be deprived of a large swathe of unionist voters if Coleraine is forfeited.
A spokesman for the commission rejected the claims.
“We conducted our business properly and thoroughly in accordance with the procedures laid down in the legislation and the outcome of elections is none of our business,” he said.
The commission reviews Parliamentary constituencies every five years.
On September 13 last year, it published provisional proposals for its sixth review following a Westminster decision that the number of constituencies should fall. The 12-week public consultation received 38 representations but few people attended the public hearings.
There will be a further four-week consultation ending on February 27. Final proposals are expected by spring or early summer next year.
The consultation begins today.