Council backs motion calling for boundaries review public inquiry

A map showing the revised proposals for the electoral boundaries in Northern Ireland, which have been significantly altered from the original plans.
A map showing the revised proposals for the electoral boundaries in Northern Ireland, which have been significantly altered from the original plans.

Mid Ulster District Council has called for a public inquiry into the handling of the ongoing review of electoral constituency boundaries, claiming many in the nationalist community have lost confidence in the process.

The Boundary Commission, which is an independent body, has put forward proposals for changes to Parliamentary and Assembly boundaries in order to reduce the number of constituencies here from 18 to 17.

And while the Commission insists that “the process of redistricting is protected from political influence or interference”, a majority of local councillors at Thursday night’s meeting backed a motion put forward by Sinn Fein Cllr Dominic Molloy calling for a public inquiry into its handling of the current review.

The motion stated: “This council acknowledges that there are grave concerns about the Boundary Commission’s decision to scrap their own provisional proposals of September 2016 in favour of revised proposals published in January 2018, which are not only far removed from their provisional proposals but which are remarkably similar to proposals submitted to the Commission by the DUP in the course of the public consultation periods of 2016 and 2017.

“As a result of this, many in the nationalist community have lost confidence in this Boundary Commission, therefore, this council, in reflecting that loss of confidence, is calling for a public inquiry into the Boundary Commission’s handling of the current review.”

Describing the motion as “a waste of time”, Cllr Trevor Wilson, the leader of the UUP group on the council, commented: “Sinn Fein never engaged meaningfully with the Commission at any stage of the process, so it’s a bit rich of them to be complaining now.

“It’s a bit hypocritical of them to be complaining about changes to Westminster boundaries when they don’t even bother to turn up at Westminster.

“We in the Ulster Unionist Party voiced our concerns about the original provisional proposals, largely because we believed they didn’t respect the geographical areas, say for instance Dungannon where it would have been divided into three and you would have had three different MPs representing the town of Dungannon.

“The revised proposals certainly aren’t perfect, but they are an improvement on the provisional proposals.”

He continued: “They (Sinn Fein) are talking about gerrymandering, but the seat that would be lost is actually a unionist seat as it would be a merger of Lagan Valley and South Antrim.

“I find it very strange Sinn Fein saying that this is gerrymandering and will result in thousands of nationalists being left without representation. It’s utter hypocrisy for Sinn Fein to talk about nationalists being denied representation, because thanks to them and their refusal to take their seats at Westminster nobody of any political persuasion in seven constituencies has any representation in the House of Commons. It’s not just nationalists being denied representation, it’s everybody.”

The Mid Ulster Mail tried to contact Cllr Molloy for comment, but he was unavailable at the time of publication.