Northern Ireland Boundary Proposals: Good News For Sinn Fein?

by Jackie_South on September 12, 2016

n-ireland-2015-result-mapTuesday sees the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales publish their draft recommendations for the Parliamentary constituency boundaries for the next general election. But as a taster, Norther Ireland’s commission published their draft recommendations a week earlier. These appear to offer good news for Sinn Fein, less good news for the Ulster Unionist Party and the Social Democratic & Labour Party.

Thanks to the Coalition Government’s 2011 Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, the total number of constituencies in the UK is being reduced from 650 to 600, and in Northern Ireland this results in a reduction from their current eighteen constituencies to seventeen. The Act means that every constituency that isn’t an island in the UK will have an average 4,769 electors and no more than a 5% variance from that figure: every constituency will therefore have between 71,031 and 78,508 electors.

That means some considerable changes in Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast: all are too small, as are the neighbouring seats of East Antrim, North Down and Strangford.

Before taking a look at the proposals, here is the current state of play: 8 Democratic Unionist Party MPs, 4 Sinn Fein MPs, 3 SDLP MPs, 2 Ulster Unionist Party MPs and one independent MP.

THE CURRENT CONSTITUENCIES

n-ireland-2015-result-map

 

Belfast East (DUP, Gavin Robinson)
One of the shocks of the 2010 general election was this solidly unionist seat being won by the cross-community Alliance Party. It was a one-off, thanks to the scandal that tainted the reputation of its longtime MP, then DUP leader Peter Robinson. The DUP regained the seat last year (31 year-old Gavin Robinson is unrelated to the former leader), although the Alliance are still competitive (6.5% behind).

The seat stretches from the River Lagan and the old shipyards (now the Titanic Quarter) and George Best Airport up the hillsides to Stormont (the grand home of the Northern Ireland Assembly) and beyond the city boundaries into the Castlereagh district. Whilst fairly solidly protestant (there is a small Catholic community at Short Strand), the constituency is a mixture of working class and middle class parts of the city. The DUP are strongest in the working class inner city parts of the seat and the outlying suburban town of Dundonald, whilst the Alliance is stronger in the middle class area sandwiched in between.

Belfast North (DUP, Nigel Dodds)
One of the poorest constitiencies in the UK, and divided between Catholic and Protestant communities, sometimes violently so. The constituency starts just north of the city centre, stretching along the north side of Belfast Lough to include Belfast Castle and zoo and then beyond the city boundaries into Newtownabbey. Areas such as Ardoyne and New Lodge are solidly republican whilst the Newtownabbey sections and the parts of the Shankill in the constituency are strongly unionist.

The constituency has always been unionist, although fairly narrowly so in 2010: Sinn Fein came within 6%. An electoral pact with the UUP, which saw them not put up a candidate , made it an easier victory for the DUP’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds in 2015.

Belfast South (SDLP, Alasdair McDonnell)
Belfast’s middle-class constituency, taking in the city centre and university and stretching southwards along both banks of the Lagan.

The constituency had been a consistent stronghold for the Ulster Unionist Party until 2005, when its long-serving MP Martin Smyth stood down. Alasdair McDonnell for SDLP took the seat thanks to the growing catholic community in the seat and the student vote that year, and helpd easily in 2010 thanks to Sinn Fein standing aside. Controversy about McDonnell’s opposition to equal marriage though saw Sinn Fein stand in 2015, and many students abandon the SDLP: as a result, McDonnell squeaked home with one of the smallest shares of the vote for a winning candidate in a UK election: a mere 24.5% of the vote (and just over 2% ahead of the send-placed DUP).

Belfast West (Sinn Fein, Paul Maskey)
The one Belfast constiteuncy that no longer produces close results is overwhelmingly Republican West Belfast, stretching along the Falls Road from the Divis flats to the new nationalist housing estates of Poleglass and Dunmurry, which were last year incorporated within the city’s redrawn boundaries.

This was Gerry Adams’ constituency until he stood down in 2011. The SDLP did take the constituency off him in 1992, thanks in part to protestant tactical voting, but the shift in popularity between the two parties after the Good Friday Agreement makes that unlikely in the future. Paul Maskey was the only MP in the province to win over 50% of the vote in 2015.

East Antrim (DUP, Sammy Wilson)
A solidly unionist seat stretching from the Belfast suburbs of Newtownabbey along the coast to take in Carrickfergus (with its twelfth century castle) and the port of Larne before reaching the Antrim Glens further north – the one area with a significant Catholic population.

It was held by the UUP until 2005, when the extremely socially conservative Sammy Wilson won it for the DUP. The UUP still come second, but Wilson’s 27% majority in 2015 probably puts this seat beyond serious contention.

East Londonderry (DUP, Gregory Campbell)
Created in 1983, East Londonderry was held by the UUP’s William Ross until Gregory Campbell won it from him in 2001 for the DUP. It is now safely in their hands, but it is has been Sinn Fein rather than the UUP that has been the runner-up in the last two elections. Campbell was 22% ahead of Sinn Fein last year.

The constituency stretches between the coast and the Sperrin Mountains, taking in the solidly unionist university town of Coleraine, along with the market town of Limavady and the seaside conurbation of Portrush and Portstewart. All these towns have a unionist majority, although it is fairly narrow in Limavady and the rural areas around that town are more nationalist.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone (UUP, Tom Elliott)
A tight marginal between the UUP and Sinn Fein. The latter saw their first Parliamentary election victory here, when hunger-striker Bobby Sands won the 1981 by-election a month before dying. Sinn Fein won the subsequent by-election too, but ex-policeman Ken Maginnis won in 1983 for the UUP and held on until standing down in 2001.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew then became the party’s first female MP, but unlike other Sinn Fein MPs always had tight elections: in 2010, her majority over a unionist unity candidate was only 4 votes. The DUP stood aside in 2015 to allow the UUP’s Tom Elliott to beat Gildernew by 530 votes.

The unionist vote is strongest in the two main towns in the constituency – Enniskillen and Dungannon (the DUP, UUP and Sinn Fein get similar shares of the vote in local elections) – and northern Fermanagh. Sinn Fein are strongest in the rural areas between the two towns.

Foyle (SDLP, Mark Durkan)
Foyle is the politically-correct constituency name for Derry/ Londonderry (which sits on the River Foyle). Derry is overwhelmingly nationalist, but despite the 1970’s events in the city including Bloody Sunday, the Battle of the Bogside and ‘Free Derry’, the civil rights history of the city has meant that it has been the more moderate SDLP, rather than Sinn Fein, that has held the seat since its creation under the current name in 1983. Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume handed the baton to Mark Durkan in 2005. He beat second-placed Sinn Fein by 16% in 2015.

The constituency does have unionist areas in the east: in the city’s Waterside (east of the Foyle) and the surrounding rural areas, as well as the small Fountain estate area west of the Foyle, squashed between the river and the city walls. But catholics now form a slight majority on the east bank and are in the overwhelming majority in areas between the city walls and the county Donegal border, in areas such as the Bogside and Creggan estate.

Lagan Valley (DUP, Jeffrey Donaldson)
A strongly unionist constituency based around the attractive linen city of Lisburn, which straddles the border between counties Antrim and Down on the River Lagan. The constituency also includes the small County Down makret town of Dromore and the large villages of Hillsborough (famous for its castle, the official residence of the Queen and the Secretary of State), Dromore, Glenavy and Moira.

The then UUP leader James Molyneaux opted to stand here when the constituency was created in 1983, and he handed the party baton on to Jeffrey Donaldson in 1997. Donaldson, a disciple of Enoch Powell when the latter was MP for South Down, fell out with the UUP over the Good Friday Agreement and eventually left them in 2004 for the DUP. A mark of his popularity locally is that most of his constituency party promptly followed him. He won over three times as many votes as the second-placed UUP last year.

Mid Ulster (Sinn Fein, Francie Molloy)
A constituency with a long heritage that is now a Sinn Fein safe seat. It has had some significant changes to its boundaries – when created in the 1950s it formed the northern two thirds of County Tyrone and had enough Catholic votes to elect Republicans before the UUP took the seat in a 1956 by-election. They held the seat until the next by-election in 1969, when a 21-year old Republican woman, Bernadette Devlin, broke the mould of Ulster politics by taking the seat. Until 2015, she was the youngest woman to be elected to Parliament.

The unionists retook the seat in February 1974, and held on to it until 1997, mainly under the DUP’s bizarre singing priest William McCrea, a man who associated with loyalist terrorists and called for the RAF to bomb a catholic village in his own constituency at his party conference. 1997 saw significant boundary changes, with the seat shifting to the east of Tyrone along with south-eastern County Londonderry. This tilted the balance to the nationalists, allowing Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness to beat McCrea. The 2013 by-election held on his resignation saw one of the best by-election turnouts in history, but it only served to show how safe the seat now is for Sinn Fein.

The seat hugs the western shore of Lough Neagh, taking in the towns of Cookstown, Magherafelt and Coalisland. All three have Catholic majorities (the latter in particular is a republican stronghold) and the surrounding rural areas are if anything stronger still for Sinn Fein.

Newry and Armagh (Sinn Fein, Mickey Brady)
It seems a little surprising  now that this constituency was a unionist constituency when it was first created in 1983: it has always had a catholic majority. Ulster Unionist MP Jim Nicholson consequently lost the seat in the wave of 1986 by-elections caused by the resignations by all the province’s unionist MPs in protest against that year’s Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The SDLP’s Seamus Mallon (later deputy first minister of Northern Ireland) was the beneficiary, and the UUP had dropped into third place by 2001. On Mallon’s retirementin 2005, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy took the seat. Controversy around Murphy led to the DUP standing aside for the UUP in 2015 (with a strong showing) but Murphy’s successor Mickey Brady held on through maintaining his party’s share of the vote.

As the name suggests, the constituency is based around the cities of Armagh and Newry – the latter spanning the boundary of counties Armagh and Down (the town hall sits above the river dividing the two). Newry and South Armagh are republican strongholds and the double-cathedral city of Armagh also has a catholic majority, although the small towns in the east of County Armagh, such as Tandragee, are more unionist.

North Antrim (DUP, Ian Paisley Jr)
This constituency is almost synonymous with its former MP, the (self-ordained) Reverend Ian Paisley. In 2010, the DUP founder handed the constiturncy on to his son, Ian Paisley junior.

The constituency is based around three ‘Ballys’: Ballymena, Ballymoney and Ballycastle, and is also home to the Giant’s Causeway and Rathlin Island. The seat also contains parts of the Antrim Glens, a catholic area, but the rest of the constituency is strongly unionist – Paisley Jr secured almost three times the vote of the runner-up candidate, and that was the even more hard-line unionists, Traditional Unionist Voice.

North Down (Independent, Sylvia Hermon)
The coastal constituency of North Down is sometimes described as the most British of the Northern Ireland seats. Based around the attractive resort town of Bangor, other settlements include the affluent Belfast suburb of Holywood, the small port of Donaghadee and the resort village of Millisle.

Whilst it is strongly unionist, it has an independent streak in picking its MPs. It had been a UUP stronghold until 1977, when its MP (the-almost-but-not-quite-out) James Kilfedder fell out with his party. Kilfedder formed the Ulster Popular Unionist Party, although its ‘popularity’ did not spread beyond North Down. On his death in 1995, he was succeeded by a Labour Party-friendly but hardline independent unionist, Robert McCartney, who won the by-election and the 1997 general election.

It was McCartney’s opposition to the Good Friday Agreement that probably led to his more genial constituents replacing him in 2001 with the UUP’s Lady Sylvia Hermon, wife of the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s former Chief Constable. Lady Hermon’s election must have felt like a return to normality for the UUP in the constituency, after 24 years of mavericks. But Hermon worked well with the Labour government in Westminster and so when the UUP decided to merge with the Conservative Party in 2010, she stood as an independent.

The phenomenally popular Lady Hermon won easily that year, securing 63% of the vote (in part because the DUP decided not to stand to help embarrass the UUP who stood against her). The UUP decided not to stand in 2015, but the DUP did and came second, but Hermon still secured 49% of the vote in a ten candidate election. Hermon seems likely to remain MP as long as she wants to continue.

South Antrim (UUP, Danny Kinahan)
A strongly unionist constituency covering the towns of Antrim, Ballyclare and Randallstown, along with the northern half of Newtownabbey and Belfast International Airport. Since its creation in 1950, it had been a UUP stronghold, but the hardline Rev William McCrea (see Mid Ulster above) won a by-election there for the DUP in 2000 in a backlash to the Good Friday Agreement.

The UUP won the seat back at the subsequent by-election but McCrea stood again in 2005 and won. He held on in 2010, but lost to the UUP’s Danny Kinahan last year. But with a majority below 1,000 this remains a close UUP-DUP marginal.

South Down (SDLP, Margaret Ritchie)
Once the constituency of Enoch Powell, in his UUP days, the SDLP’s Eddie McGrady won the seat in 1987 and it has become their stronghold since – its moderate nationalism seems to appeal more to its catholic majority than Sinn Fein’s republicanism. After 23 years, McGrady handed the seat on to Margaret Ritchie in 2010. Sinn Fein took over second place in the constituency in 2001 and their share of the vote has climbed slowly since, but Ritchie was still 14% ahead of them in last year’s election.

The constituency is based around a number of small towns: Downpatrick (with its links to St Patrick), the resort of Newcastle, the small fishing towns of Kilkeel and Warrenpoint and the small inland town of Rathfriland. It also takes in some of the province’s scenic highlights around the Mourne Mountains.

Strangford (DUP, Jim Shannon)
A strongly unionist seat that is now also a DUP stronghold. The village of Strangford is actually not in the constituency – the seat is named after Strangford Lough which the constituency curves around, covering the Ards Peninsula and most of its western shore. The main town is Newtownards and other towns include Ballynahinch, Killyleagh, Comber and Portaferry.

The UUP’s John Taylor held the seat safely from its creation in 1983 until he retired in 2001. Then Peter Robinson’s wife Iris took the seat for the DUP in a tight victory. She held it comfortably in 2005, but had to resign in 2010 following scandal. The fallout did not dent the prospects of her successor Jim Shannon though, who secured three times the vote of the second-placed UUP candidate in 2015.

Upper Bann (DUP, David Simpson)
The demographics of Upper Bann are helping to turn it into a three-cornered contest between the DUP, UUP and Sinn Fein: less than 10% has separated the three parties in the last two general elections.

The constituency covers the north of County Armagh and some of the west of County Down, which includes the Craigavon conurbation (stretching between Lurgan and Portadown) and Banbridge. Banbridge tends to favour the UUP, Portadown the DUP and Lurgan Sinn Fein, with the centre of Craigavon being fairly split between the three of them.

Upper Bann had been David Trimble’s constituency, until the former UUP leader lost it to the DUP in 2005 in a backlash to power-sharing in the Northern Ireland Assembly. David Simpson has held it since then, but the UUP were less than 5% behind him last year, with Sinn Fein just over 3% behind the UUP.

West Tyrone (Sinn Fein, Pat Doherty)
When the constituency was created in 1997, it was first won by the UUP. Sinn Fein jumped from third to first place in the next election in 2001 and it is now safely theirs: Pat Doherty’s 43.5% share of the vote last year was 26% ahead of the second-placed DUP.

The constituency comprises the former districts of Omagh and Strabane (in fact, more of the pre-1997 Mid Ulster seat is in West Tyrone than in the seat now bearing that name), and includes both those towns as well as villages such as Castlederg along the border with the Republic. The 1998 Omagh bombing in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement has made this one of the most pro-Agreement areas of the province, which appears to have helped Sinn Fein in elections.

THE PROPOSALS


n-ireland-draft-recom-map-blankThe Commission has proposed to reduce the current number of constituencies from 18 to 17 by reducing the number of constituencies in Belfast from four to three. This is likely to be controversial, as the city has had four constituencies since the 1922 partition of Ireland and the complex identity politics of the city, but there is a logic: the current four seats are all significantly under size and three extend well beyond the city limits (all four did until the city boundaries were redrawn last year). Reducing to three seats will still require some areas outside of the city to meet the quota.

The boundaries have had to change from those drawn up by the Commission and then abandoned in 2013, as since then new local government arrangements have been put in place in the province last year. These reduced 25 districts to 11. Belfast City council has extended to take in some peripheral estates that had grown up, and was divided up into 60 wards. The other ten districts have 40 wards each. In Northern Ireland, these wards are then grouped into electoral districts of five to seven wards to facilitate single-transferable vote elections. These 460 new wards are the basis for this review.

For Belfast, the Commission has taken what appears to be a logical approach. First, all the parts of the city east of the River Lagan form an enlarged Belfast East seat (which loses its Dundonald wards in the Lisburn and Castlereagh district), taking in parts of Belfast South.

Next, it forms two constituencies west of the river, taking in two wards outside the city boundaries there to reach the required quota. The two wards chosen are where the city merges into Newtownabbey and which are already part of a Belfast seat – any other wards west of the Lagan would either have reached across open countryside or brought in areas not previously in a Belfast constituency. The consequence is to shuffle Belfast North a bit further southwest, taking in parts of Belfast West and being named Belfast North West. The remainder of Belfast Westis then merged with those parts of Belfast South west of the river to form Belfast South West.

Outside Belfast, the Commission has decided to create four constituencies for those parts of County Down outside of the cross-county city of Newry. Three of these closely resemble current seats: North Down, Strangford and South Down. The fourth is West Down, based around Banbridge, Dromore, Moira, Hillsborough and the County Down parts of Lisburn.

The remainder (the Antrim side) of Lisburn is then merged with parts of South Antrim, creating a seat based on Lisburn and Antrim town. The remainder of South Antrim – northern Newtownabbey, Ballyclare and Randalstown – has then been put together with the area around Ballymena from North Antrim to form West Antrim. The undersized East Antrim has the Newtownabbey areas of the current Belfast North seat but now removed added to bring it up to the quota, whilst removing its parts of the Antrim Glens at the other end of the seat to unite them with the North Antrim section of The Glens.

The creation of West Antrim leaves North Antrim too small, even with the transfer in of some voters from East Antrim. This is resolved by stretching the constituency further west along the Causeway Coast to take in the large town of Coleraine and the Portrush conurbation. Most of this new seat is within the new Causeway Coast and Glens district. The Commission has named this new constituency Dalriada, after the Dark Age kingdom that covered the north of Ulster and the western Scottish Highlands and Islands.

Further south, Newry and Armagh is unusual in already being above the new average constituency size, although it is within the 5% variance. To make the numbers work elsewhere, some voters have been shaved off the northern end of the constituency and passed to the Craigavon  part of Upper Bann. Because of the loss of Banbridge to West Down and the use of the neighbouring area to the north in the South Antrim seat, Upper Bann is stretched westwards to take in Dungannon and Coalisland, and is renamed Upper Bann and Blackwater to reflect both major rivers in the seat.

The removal of Dungannon from Fermanagh and South Tyrone means that seat now must stretch to the north west, taking in the westernmost parts of West Tyrone, as far north as Castlederg. Foyle is currently slightly under-size, but this is easily addressed by taking in the Bready ward from West Tyrone – this ward was in the Foyle seat until 1997.

The remainder of West Tyrone is now linked to the area around Cookstown from Mid Ulster, forming a North Tyrone constituency. That leaves an area around Magherafelt and Limavady to form the seventeenth constituency in the non-urban centre of County Londonderry, which the Commission has named Glenshane after a pass in the Sperrin Mountains linking those two towns.

POLITICAL IMPACT

We’ve modelled the impact of these changes using the 2015 general election results. To do this, we have compared those 2015 results to the 2014 local government results to identify the voting pattern in each of the new wards: if the multi-ward  electoral districts within a constituency had a total of 8,000 votes for Party A in the 2014 elections and the party polled 10,000 votes in the general election, we would multiply the local election vote for each ward by 1.25.

If a district’s wards are split between constituencies. we have split the 2014 votes pro-rata to the ward’s electorate size before matching to the 2015 result. This may lead to some inaccuracies where the wards in a district vary significantly (e.g. if there is a strongly Catholic ward in a district otherwise predominantly Protestant) but it should be reasonably accurate over all on aggregate.

Below we run through each of the proposed constituencies, with our projections.

1. Belfast East – DUP-Alliance marginalbelfast-east-rec-pie

The current constituency is a DUP-Alliance Party marginal. The removal of the strongly DUP Dundonald wards together with the inclusion of middle-class parts of Belfast South are likely to make the margin between the two parties tighter than the 6.5% lead the DUP achieved last year, although Robinson’s incumbency could counter-balance that shift. Our projection reduces the DUP lead to less than 1%.

2. Belfast North West – DUP-SF marginalbelfast-nw-rec-pie

Nigel Dodds beat Sinn Fein (thanks to an electoral pact with the UUP) by 13% in 2015, but only x% in 2010. The loss of the unionist areas of Newtownabbey and the inclusion of the extremely Republican areas of Lower Falls will tighten that lead, perhaps eliminating it entirely.

Like Belfast East, our projected lead for the DUP is less than 1%, and Sinn Fein topped the polls across the constituency in the 2014 local elections.

3. Belfast South West – Safe SFbelfast-sw-rec-pie

Belfast South West merges the majority of SDLP held Belfast South with the majority of Sinn Fein held Belfast West. Which of these nationalist parties wins out? Sinn Fein, easily: Belfast West is rock solid for them whilst the SDLP barely won Belfast South last year. Our projection puts Sinn Fein 26% ahead of the SDLP.

Note the large share of the vote here for other parties. This is because of the vote for People Before Profit in Belfast West in the 2015 election, who came second there with 19% of the vote.

4. Dalriada – Safe DUPdalriada-rec-pie

The merging of the North Antrim DUP stronghold with DUP-slanted Coleraine was only likely to have one outcome. Our projection of the 2015 result puts them 25% ahead of second-placed UUP here.

5. East Antrim – Safe DUPe-antrim-rec-pie

Similarly, East Antrim is pretty safe for the DUP nowadays and merging it with some of their strongest parts of Belfast North would maintain the 27% lead over the UUP that Sammy Wilson achieved last year.

6. Fermanagh and South Tyrone – SF-UUP marginalfermanagh-st-rec-pie

Last year’s UUP victory over Sinn Fein came from three areas: Dungannon, Enniskillen and the area north west of the Erne lakes. The proposals remove Dungannon and replace it with highly Catholic areas in rural west Tyrone. This should be sufficient to shift the balance back to Sinn Fein, even with the pact with the DUP continuing. Our projection of the 2015 result for the proposed constituency puts Sinn Fein 5% ahead.

7. Foyle – Safe SDLPfoyle-rec-pie

A largely unchanged Foyle constituency unsurprisingly would result in the SDLP continuing to hold this constituency. We project that their lead over Sinn Fein would remain at 16%.

8. Glenshane – Safe SFglenshane-rec-pie

This oddly-named constituency combines parts of the DUP and Sinn Fein respective strongholds of East Londonderry and Mid Ulster. However, the strongest part of East Londonderry would transfer to the Dalriada seat and rural areas around Limavady favour Sinn Fein. The Magherafelt parts of Mid Ulster are fairly average for that seat, and the outcome is a constituency tilted towards Sinn Fein. In fact, our projection of the 2015 result on the new boundaries puts Sinn Fein almost 15% ahead of the DUP.

9. Newry and Armagh – SF holdnewry-armagh-rec-pie

Minimal changes to the constituency mean that there would be little electoral impact from the proposed changes. The removal of a small area in the more unionist-inclined north of the constituency would marginally assist Sinn Fein to hold on.

10. North Down – Safe Independentn-down-rec-pie

Sylvia Hermon will have little to fear from the addition of Dundonald to her constituency. Our projection brings her majority over the DUP down to 10% from the 26% lead she achieved last year, but that is because there was no vote equivalent to hers in Belfast East to use as a comparison. Some Alliance voters there are likely to move over to Lady Hermon.

However, when she retires the DUP look well-placed to take over. An analysis of local government voting shows that they took 34% of the vote in the 2014 election across the proposed constituency, compared to 16% for the UUP and 15% for the Alliance Party.

11. North Tyrone – Safe SFn-tyrone-rec-pie

This seat is a successor to West Tyrone, with Cookstown added from Mid Ulster. Both constituencies are safely held by Sinn Fein and our projection gives them 44% of the vote in the consituency: 26% ahead of second-placed UUP.

12. South Antrim – Safe DUPs-antrim-rec-pie

The UUP look set to lose their 2015 gain through the proposals: the loss of much of the seat to the new West Antrim constituency and the addition of most of Lisburn is a massive setback for them. Our projection puts the DUP 20% ahead.

s-down-rec-pie13. South Down – Safe SDLP

Minimal boundary changes to South Down should leave them safe here. We project that their lead over Sinn Fein would be 13%, very similar to the actual 2015 result.

14. Strangford – Safe DUPstrangford-rec-pie

Minimal changes to this seat should leave it safely in the DUP’s hands. We project a 26% lead for them over the Alliance Party, with the UUP close behind in third place.

15. Upper Bann and Blackwater – SF gain?upper-bann-bwater-rec-pie

This is probably the most surprising outcome of the projections. Sinn Fein gaining David Trimble’s old seat?

But it is easy to understand why: Upper Bann loses strongly unionist Banbridge and gains more Sinn Fein inclined parts of Tyrone. Whilst Dungannon is more unionist than some other parts of Fermanagh & South Tyrone, it is not as much as Banbridge. Further, the Coalisland area (currently in Mid Ulster) that is also added is extremely republican – probably their strongest part of Mid Ulster. That is enough to add to the demographic changes in recent years around Craigavon (particularly in Lurgan) to shift the balance.

The question for the DUP and UUP then becomes should they attempt an electoral pact to prevent a Sinn Fein victory. But it is not clear who is better-placed. Our projection of the 2015 result puts the UUP second, 8% behind Sinn Fein. However, the 2014 local election results suggest that the DUP might be better placed: 5% behind Sinn Fein on aggregate. The UUP position against the DUP in the projection is helped by the fact that the latter did not stand in Fermanagh & South Tyrone, but it is not clear that the two unionist parties will find this easy to resolve.

w-antrim-rec-pie

16. West Antrim – Safe DUP

The changes to South Antrim look set to lose the UUP their MP there. But do they have a chance in the other constituency that takes electors from the current seat?

It appears not: West Antrim would be almost as safe for the DUP as South Antrim would become, thanks to the bedrock of DUP support in and around Ian Paisley’s old base of Ballymena. We project that the 2015 result would have been an 18% lead for the DUP over the second-placed UUP.

17. West Down – DUP holdw-down-rec-pie

This seat merges strongly-unionist Banbridge with parts of strongly DUP Lagan Valley. Our projection puts the DUP lead over the second-placed UUP around 12%, a pretty safe hold. The Banbridge section does offer some hope for the UUP though, and the local election results on these boundaries were closer: the DUP lead was reduced to 6% there.

CONCLUSION

All the Northern Ireland parties seem to be getting their criticisms in early. But our projections suggest that the recommendations would hurt the Ulster Unionist Party most: neither of their current two MPs would have won their elections last year on these boundaries. The SDLP would also have some cause for concern given the loss of their Belfast South seat, although given the tight result there in 2015 it is likely that any redrawing of boundaries might have that effect.

The DUP have perhaps a more mixed outlook: our projections show them holding eight MPs as they do now. But two of those – Belfast East and Belfast North West – would be very close indeed, more so than the current seats. Furthermore, the impact on Upper Bann looks fairly disasterous.

Sylvia Hermon should be content that she would be able to hold on to her independent seat whilst the Alliance Party should be cheered that their chances of regaining Belfast East are improved through the changes.

But it is Sinn Fein that should perhaps be happiest: looking to gain two seats (Fermanagh & South Tyrone and Upper Bann and Blackwater) to their current tally of four whilst improving their change of another (Belfast North West).

Our map below summarises our projections.

n-ireland-draft-recom-map-sept-16

 

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