The revamping of Northern Ireland’s political boundaries has led to some “strange bedfellows” being thrown together.
That is according to Doug Beattie, MLA for Upper Bann, a constituency which has both shrunk in size and changed shape in the latest and final version of the Boundary Commission for NI’s blueprints.
Banbridge – a major built-up settlement which forms a key part of the existing seat – will now find itself in the same constituency as Newtownards, which has been the core of the Strangford seat ever since the latter was created in 1983.
In between the two settlements, which are about 30 miles apart, is a long belt taking in much of the former Lagan Valley constituency, which will cease to exist.
Mr Beattie said: “I think it’ll have a massive effect on Upper Bann and the voting patterns. There’s a massive vote base in Banbridge, and I’d say it’s a massive unionist vote base – both DUP and UUP – and that’s been taken out.”
Whilst he said “I think it’s still a safe unionist seat”, the new plans are “really strange”.
For instance, when it comes Newtownards being in the same seat, he said: “They’re strange bedfellows, no matter which way you look at it. The people of Newtownards are nothing like the people of Banbridge. They’re absolutely chalk and cheese.
“Geographically people are aligned in a certain way, and look in a certain direction. I get the sense the centre of gravity for the likes of Banbridge is less inclined to be in that direction.”
He also noted that Upper Bann will now be the smallest constituency in terms of electorate; the new plans give it an electorate of about 69,800, but Electoral Office figures cite an electorate of over 80,000 in 2015 – the biggest in the country at the time.
Both Jim Shannon (DUP MP for Strangford) and Carla Lockhart (DUP MLA for Upper Bann) re-directed the News Letter to a statement from the party’s central HQ, issued the previous day, which just noted the publication of the new blueprints and said: “We will now study these in detail.”
It will now be up to MPs to reject or accept the blueprints, which cut NI’s Assembly and Westminster constituencies from 18 to 17.