Sinn Fein’s claim that a new set of constituency boundaries for Northern Ireland amounts to gerrymandering has been dismissed as “ludicrous” by a DUP MP.
Gregory Campbell was speaking after Sinn Fein increased its condemnation of a new political map of the Province, which had been prematurely published online this week by the Boundary Commission.
Sinn Fein’s Francie Molloy said on Wednesday the draft plan “amounts to gerrymandering” by the government to please the DUP.
Then on Thursday the party’s regional leader Michelle O’Neill repeated the charge, saying they “point to gross gerrymandering”.
Mr Campbell – whose East Londonderry constituency would be replaced by a belt-like area along the north coast called ‘Causeway’ under the new plans – was reluctant to speak about the potential ramifications of the changes, telling the News Letter “people should not make assumptions” about the still under-development blueprints.
But when it came to the claims of gerrymandering, he pointed to the fact Sinn Fein was the only major party which had not sent its views to the Boundary Commission as part of its initial consultation on the plans back in 2016.
He said: “It’s unfortunately becoming a typical Sinn Fein response – not to take up the opportunity to formulate a position on an issue and then if they don’t like the outcome to then complain about it, which is very difficult for any political party to justify.
“Most people, no matter what their political views, would see that as being a completely unsustainable and indefensible position to adopt.”
He added Sinn Fein had not complained about gerrymandering in other cases of boundary alteration (such as changes to Belfast City Council’s boundaries, where Sinn Fein is now the largest party), “but now because they get the wrong result, they infer that there’s been gerrymandering – it’s a ludicrous charge”.
WHAT IS HAPPENING AND WHY?
The redrawing of the constituency boundaries is happening because the government is trying to implement a long-running plan to cut the number of MPs’ constituencies from 650 to 600, something which will see Northern Ireland drop from 18 to 17 seats.
There is also a need to balance out the number of people in each constituency to make them roughly even.
The Boundary Commission is prohibited from taking political considerations into account when redrawing election maps.
The revamped constituency map would affect both Assembly constituencies and Westminster ones.
The Boundary Commission first published its blueprint for a revised constituency map in September 2016.
Among other changes, it cut Belfast from four to three constituencies.
This went out to public consultation for 12 weeks.
The responses generated by the consultation were then published, and there was then another consultation whereby people could respond to comments made during the first consultation.
After having taken all those comments into account, on January 30, the commission will then officially publish its new map.
After an eight-week consultation on those plans, the final map will be drawn up and published in September.