I maintain the Northern Ireland elections website at http://www.ark.ac.uk/elections, the most substantial archive of electoral information regarding the region available anywhere. Although I have not resided in Northern Ireland since 1997, I maintain a strong interest in these matters; I am a Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Social Science at Ulster University, and was invited by BBC Northern Ireland to participate in their live telecasts of the election results in 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016. I was a candidate in North Belfast in 1996, and electoral agent for a local council by-election in 1995, but am not at present a member of any Northern Irish political party. The views expressed below are my own and should not be attributed to any other organisation.
- Overall observations
The Commission functions under a number of important constraints, of which the most important is the requirement to keep the electorate of proposed constituencies between 69,401 and 78,507, and also the use of ward boundaries as the building blocks for proposed constituencies. Both of these constraints are tighter than in the aborted 2011-2012 review, when the permissible size of constituencies was broader (70,583 to 80,473) and the wards were more numerous (there were then 582; there are now 462). I have further comment on both of those constraints below, but for now I acknowledge the very real difficulties faced by the Commission in executing its mandate.
I agree with several crucial elements of the Provisional Proposals. First, it is clear that Belfast cannot sustain four parliamentary constituencies, and must be reduced to three. Second, I agree that the Foyle, Newry and Armagh, and South Down constituencies, which are all at or near the electoral quota, should have only minimal changes, mainly to reflect the new ward boundaries.
I am concerned, however, that the Provisional Proposals seem often, and wrongly, to prioritise simple geographical contiguity of the electoral wards, without taking into account other important factors – in particular, the disruption to existing boundaries, and the fact that communication along the coast is often better than between the coast and the areas immediately inland. It should also be recognised that any ward with a non-urban element (ie most of them) will contain clusters ofpopulation internally, rather than a uniform spread.
Several of the constituencies proposed by the Commission are, frankly, awful. The union of Dungannon with Craigavon in the proposed Upper Bann and Blackwater seat, the West Antrim seat which stretches absurdly to within a mile of Belfast Lough, and the awkwardly balanced Dalriada seat all breach natural communities and lines of communication. The major changes to Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and to Upper Bann, in the Provisional Proposals are unnecessary, and most of those two existing constituencies can be preserved.
That of course has knock-on effects all around the map, with consequences outlined below, but in general I think the seats I propose have more manageable shapes and respect organic communities and internal linksbetter than those proposed by the Commission. In the specific cases of Belfast, Foyle, Newry and Armagh, and South Down, I largely agree with the Commission's proposals apart from a ward here and there.
I make these proposals not from the point of view of the interest of any political party, but with the goal of maximising satisfactory geography and minimising disruption to the current arrangements (which, alas, must still be substantial).
In summary, I propose that:
- The proposed major change to Fermanagh and South Tyrone should be dropped. Only minimal changes are necessary.
- Newry and Armagh should include most of Blackwatertown rather than Mahon.
- South Down should include Ballynahinch, and Crossgar and Killyleagh, but not Loughbrickland or Rathfriland.
- Upper Bann should lose Banbridge but gain Mahon (and a part of Blackwatertown) and Moira.
- North Down should include the Ards Peninsula rather than Dundonald.
- Strangford should include Dundonald and Carryduff, but not the Ards Peninsula.
- Lagan Valley (which need not be renamed West Down) should include the urban core of Lisburn, and the rural heart of County Down including Banbridge, Loughbrickland and Rathfriland, but not Carryduff.
- I agree to the proposed changes to Belfast, except that I would include the North Down and Ards ward of Loughview in East Belfast and would move Belvoir to South West Belfast and Ballymurphy to North West Belfast.
- Foyle should include Claudy in Derry and Strabane District.
- West Tyrone should be expanded to include the neighbouring wards of Park from Derry and Strabane District, and Donaghmore, Oaklands and Pomeroy from the Mid Ulster district. “Sperrin” might be a more appropriate name.
- Glenshane should include the remainder of Mid Ulster and most of five wards from Causeway Coast and Glens.
- A new Causeway Coast and Coleraine constituency should unite Limavady and Coleraine.
- East Antrim should include the Glens, and Ballyclare rather than Newtownabbey.
- West Antrim should include both Ballymena and Antrim town, but should not include Newtownabbey.
- South Antrim should include most of Newtownabbey and the territory between Lough Neagh and Belfast.
- The numbers
But before getting to the detail, there are two important observations to be made regarding process.
First, the Commission states that "The legislation requires that...each constituency shall have an electorate of between 71,031 and 78,507". This is not true. As conceded later in its own report, the Commission has the discretion to define seats with an electorate as low as 69,401 if it deems that the higher limit would “unreasonably” impair its ability to draw up seats.
The wording of the Provisional Proposals suggests that the Commission regards this as a high bar. But as far as I can tell, exactly the same considerations under Rule 5 apply to the 69,401 threshold as to the 71,031 threshold. The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland has been given greater freedom of manoeuvre than its counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales, and it should not hesitate to use that freedom; it has no obligation to consider any question relating to constituency size, other than ensuring that a proposed constituency has more than 69,401 and fewer than 78,507 electors. A couple of my own proposals below do need the extra flexibility of the 69,401 threshold, and in my view any arrangement which takes due note of local ties is very likely to need that flexibility.
Second, the Commission should not feel obliged to respect ward boundaries. The wording of the legislation on this point is notably weak: it is required only that the Commission "shall have regard" to ward boundaries. It makes sense to use the wards as starting blocks, but that need not survive to the final map.
The current wards are for the most part very recent creations, used for the first time only in the 2014 local government elections, and they do not necessarily reflect natural communities. In my own proposals I tentatively suggest two ward divisions (Blackwatertown and Altahullion), but I want to observe here the general difficulty of getting satisfactory boundaries, particularly in Counties Down and Tyrone, using the new wards, which are too big to be sufficiently flexible. The Commission should be ready to split wards (as I understand has been already proposed by their counterparts in England and Wales) to design better boundaries.
- Proposed alterations to the Provisional Proposals
The Commission’s Provisional Proposals err, as last time round, by optimizing the shape of the constituency for a single centre of gravity around Enniskillen. This is presumably the consequence of using naïve clustering software which prioritises contiguity within the geographical ward jigsaw over actually existing ties. In fact the constituency has always had two centres, Enniskillen and Dungannon; local ties tend to run within the old county boundaries, and the wards which it is proposed to add from the old County Tyrone have much stronger links towards Omagh than to Enniskillen, let alone the Clogher Valley. There is no need to breach those links, since the constituency can be preserved almost as it is.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone should therefore include the following 22 Fermanagh and Omagh district wards with 44,892 electors (but it should not include Dromore, Drumquin, Fintona, Newtownsaville or Trillick, which should remain in the seat based on the current West Tyrone):
|Ballinamallard||2084||Florence Court and Kinawley||2117|
|Belcoo and Garrison||2062||Irvinestown||2110|
|Belleek and Boa||2267||Lisbellaw||2192|
|Boho, Cleenish and Letterbreen||2328||Lisnarrick||1948|
|Ederney and Kesh||2056||Rossorry||1717|
It should also include the following 12 Mid Ulster district wards with 26,146 electors:
|Augher and Clogher||2456||Fivemiletown||2105|
These are essentially the Dungannon and Clogher Valley areas, excluding Coalisland as at present. The Commission’s Provisional Proposals keep five of these wards in Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Augher and Clogher, Aughnacloy, Ballygawley, and Fivemiletown); the current boundaries of Fermanagh and South Tyrone already include most or all of the other seven (Ballysaggart, Caledon, Castlecaulfield, Killyman, Killymeal, Moy, Moygashel, Mullaghmore).
There is no need to include any wards from Derry and Strabane district. Those which the Provisional Proposals would add look north rather than south.
This gives a total electorate of 71,038 which is (just!) within 5% of the quota.
3.2 Newry and Armagh
Newry and Armagh should continue to include 11 wards from Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon district with 38,060 electors:
This varies from the Provisional Proposals by including Blackwatertown and excluding Mahon. The Provisional Proposals would have separated the ward of Blackwatertown from its natural links to Armagh, and Mahon from its natural links to Portadown, and my proposal reverses both errors.
The top spike of the Blackwatertown ward gives a very inelegant boundary, and it should be divided at the level of Blackwatertown village itself, the townlands of Blackwatertown, Mullanary, Kilmore and Grange Blundell remaining in Newry and Armagh, and the townlands north of and including Tullykevan, Drumask, Drumarn, Keenaghan, Aghinlig and Lisasly moved to Upper Bann. I don’t have electorate figures, but it cannot be many voters; the population of Charlemont, the largest settlement in the northern spur, is given as 109 in the latest census.
Although Loughgall ward is mainly inside the current Newry and Armagh constituency, I agree with the Boundary Commission that it must be excluded to keep the constituency within 5% of the quota.
Newry and Armagh should also continue to include 13 wards from Newry, Mourne and Down district with 37,329 electors:
These are the same as in the Commission’s Provisional Proposals.
The total electorate of these wards is 75,389, which is within 5% of the quota, even if a couple of hundred electors in the northern tip of Blackwatertown are moved to Upper Bann.
3.3 South Down
Here my proposals vary more from the current boundaries than do the Commission’s Provisional Proposals, but with the virtue that they respect and restore local ties. I propose to add the Newry, Mourne and Down wards of Ballynahinch, and Crossgar and Killyleagh, to South Down, as those all look naturally to Downpatrick; but to remove the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon wards of Loughbrickland and Rathfriland; the former certainly looks more to Banbridge than it does to Newry, let alone Downpatrick. The constituency would therefore consist only of the following 25 wards all from Newry, Mourne and Down district, with a total electorate of 72,705:
|Crossgar and Killyleagh||2884||Rostrevor||3103|
The electorate of 72,705 is within 5% of the quota.
3.4 Upper Bann
The proposal to use the River Blackwater, which has functioned as a county and electoral boundary for centuries, as one of the spines of a new constituency, rather than a boundary between them, is the weakest element in the Provisional Proposals. The existing Upper Bann seat is only a little above the electoral quota, and it is straightforward to find a core of wards mostly within the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon district that creates a constituency geography which both respects local ties and meets the other criteria. Compared to the current Upper Bann, these boundaries lose the Banbridge area, but gain Loughgall and part of Blackwatertown from Newry and Armagh, and Moira from Lagan Valley.
Upper Bann should therefore include the following 21 Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon district wards, with an electorate of 70,041, which is within the variation allowed for Northern Ireland though not within 5% of the quota:
I have added the wards of Bleary, Donaghcloney, Gilford, Magheralin, Mahon, and Waringstown to the Commission’s recommendations for Upper Bann and Blackwater, but obviously have removed all of the Mid Ulster district wards.
As noted above, the tripoint between Upper Bann and Newry and Armagh can be made neater by dividing the Blackwatertown ward, with its less populous northern tip also moved to Upper Bann and the southern part remaining in Newry and Armagh.
I am normally wary of breaching district boundaries, but Moira is a special case – it is literally twice as close to Lurgan as it is to Lisburn, and there seems little harm in the new Upper Bann boundary reflecting that reality. Upper Bann should therefore include a single Lisburn and Castlereagh district ward:
There is no need to include any of the Mid Ulster district wards that the Commission proposes for its Upper Bann and Blackwater seat.
The total electorate of Upper Bann will therefore be 72,575 which is within 5% of the quota, plus perhaps a couple of hundred if the northern tip of Blackwatertown is also included.
3.5 North Down
The Provisional Proposals expand the North Down constituency by adding Dundonald, with the reasonable observation that it was part of the seat until the 1990s. (I myself remember campaigning in the 1995 parliamentary by-election, which was fought on those boundaries.) However, the former North Down borough has now been united at local government level with Ards rather than with Castlereagh, so it seems preferable, if local ties are to be respected, to add to the existing seat a substantial new bloc of voters from within North Down and Ards district rather than elsewhere. Such a bloc can be found in the Ards Peninsula; the fact is that the majority of settlement there is on its western shore, which connects much more obviously to Bangor than to Newtownards. I therefore propose that the North Down seat should include only the following 27 wards from North Down and Ards district, with a total electorate of 76,561:
This adds six more to the Provisional Recommendations (Ballywalter, Carrowdore, Kircubbin, Loughries, Portaferry and Portavogie) but removes Loughview, which I propose should be moved from North Down to East Belfast.
There is therefore no need to include any wards from Lisburn and Castlereagh district.
(Map included after my Strangford proposals.)
If Strangford loses the Ards Peninsula as I propose (or indeed Dundonald, as the Commission proposes), it must gain electors from somewhere else. The obvious resource is Carryduff, which in fact produces a seat of just the right size, especially if Ballynahinch (which looks south anyway) is moved to South Down. I therefore propose that Strangford should include the following 12 wards from North Down and Ards district, all of which are in the current Strangford seat (and all of which the Provisional Proposals would also retain), with a total of 33,969 electors:
Also 3 wards from Newry, Mourne and Down district, which are also in the current Strangford constituency (and which the Provisional Proposals would retain), with 8,743 electors, but losing the wards of Ballynahinch and Crossgar and Killyleagh which look to Downpatrick:
And 13 wards from Lisburn and Castlereagh district, bringing in the Dundonald area (which is much closer to Newtownards than it is to Bangor) and Carryduff (which cannot be retained in a Belfast seat), with a total of 30,375 electors:
This adds nine wards (Ballyhanwood, Beechill, Carrowreagh, Carryduff West, Dundonald, Enler, Graham's Bridge, Knockbracken and Newtownbreda) to the Provisional Proposals for Strangford.
3.7 Lagan Valley
The Commission’s proposed seat of West Down stretches from Carryduff to Banbridge, and snakes through central Lisburn. My proposal transfers Carryduff to be in the same seat as its natural neighbour Dundonald, and I think achieves a better solution for Lisburn, keeping it with Hillsborough and Dromore and adding Banbridge, the main towns on the A1 road between Belfast and Newry.
Since the River Lagan remains the core of the Lisburn end of the seat, and my boundaries contain almost all of the river’s course outside Belfast, I propose that its name should remain Lagan Valley rather than West Down (the Lisburn elements are of course from the former County Antrim anyway).
This should therefore include the following 18 wards from Lisburn and Castlereagh district, with 42,097 electors:
Compared to the Commission’s proposed West Down, this removes Beechill, Carryduff West, Knockbracken and Newtownbreda to Strangford, and Moira to Upper Bann, but adds Ballymacash, Harmony Hill, and Hilden to the west of the River Lagan.
It should also include 9 wards from the Banbridge end of the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon district, some of which are in the current Lagan Valley, with a total electorate of 29,738:
This gives a total electorate for Lagan Valley of 71,835 which is within 5% of the quota.
3.8 East Belfast
I agree in general with the reasoning and conclusion in the Provisional Proposals that only three seats can be justified for Belfast, and that the natural dividing line between East Belfast and the rest of the city is the River Lagan.
I disagree on the inclusion of Belvoir ward in East Belfast. Although it is physically east of the Lagan, the major settlement is the Belvoir estate which is geographically at the top of the Malone Road, and therefore looks to South / South West Belfast rather than East. The 20 (rather than 21) Belfast wards which I would include in East Belfast, with a total electorate of 68,579, are:
This leaves East Belfast more than 5% under the electoral quota and also below the 69,401 threshold; I propose to add the Loughview ward from North Down and Ards district.
This is a more compact solution than the Provisional Proposals, with its total electorate of 71,425 within 5% of the quota.
3.9 Belfast South West
As noted above, I propose to move the Belvoir ward into the new South West Belfast seat. This makes it rather large; it also seems to me that Ballymurphy is a better fit with Beechmount, Clonard and Falls (which I agree must move to North West Belfast) than it is with Turf Lodge and Falls Park. If Ballymurphy is moved, South West Belfast would therefore contain the following 20 Belfast wards:
|Falls Park||3646||Turf Lodge||3472|
With a total electorate of 73,688, this is within 5% of the quota.
3.10 North West Belfast
As noted above, I largely agree with the Commission’s Provisional Proposals for this seat, but would add Ballymurphy as well, as it is more closely linked to Beechmount, Clonard and Falls than to its southern and western neighbours Turf Lodge and Falls Park. North West Belfast would therefore include the following 20 Belfast wards with 70,215 electors:
And, as the Commission proposes, 2 wards from Antrim and Newtownabbey district, with 4,428 electors. It is unarguable that Valley ward functions in many ways in practice as an extension of North Belfast. It is less clear that Collinbridge is as good a fit (considering where its populations actually lives) but including it here helps the map elsewhere.
This gives a total of 74,643 electors, which is within 5% of the quota.
Turning to the west, Foyle presents an interesting situation where the existing constituency is pretty much within the permitted limit already, and the Provisional Proposals respect the existing boundaries, updated for the new wards. I would add the Claudy ward (which surely looks towards Derry City before anywhere else) to pull the total electorate closer to the quota and therefore create more space elsewhere. The Foyle constituency would thus include the following 28 wards from Derry and Strabane district, with a total electorate of 73,934, which is within 5% of the quota:
|City Walls||2356||Madam's Bank||2412|
|Creggan South||2641||Shantallow East||3027|
Incidentally, Foyle is surely sufficiently compact and densely populated – particularly if my proposal of including Claudy is not accepted – that it could be considered as a borough constituency.
3.12 Sperrin / West Tyrone
If we keep Foyle and also Fermanagh and South Tyrone pretty much within their current boundaries, the current West Tyrone seat must be the base of the last of the western Border constituencies. Its current electorate is well below the quota; I propose to add the four neighbouring wards that are the most geographically contiguous with the West Tyrone base. These are Park from Derry and Strabane District, and Donaghmore, Oaklands and Pomeroy from the Mid Ulster district.
West Tyrone, however, is no longer appropriate as a name for the seat. Park is not in Tyrone, and Donaghmore, Oaklands and Pomeroy are not in the west of the old County. If these boundaries are accepted, “Sperrin” would be a more appropriate name.
Compared to the Commission’s proposed North Tyrone, this proposal has the benefit of being more compact and serving the hinterlands of Omagh and to an extent Strabane rather better. The Commission’s proposal stretches uncomfortably across the map; it is well over an hour’s drive between its two extremities, Strabane and Ardboe.
The Sperrin seat should therefore include the following 12 Derry and Strabane wards with 30,008 electors (the Provisional Proposals would include eight of these in North Tyrone, three in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and one in Glenshane):
It would also include the following 18 wards from Fermanagh and Omagh district, with an electorate of 35,662 (13 are in the Commission’s proposed North Tyrone, five in its proposed Fermanagh and South Tyrone):
And three wards from Mid Ulster district with a total electorate of 7,432 (all three are in the Commission’s North Tyrone):
The total electorate of this seat is 73,102 which is within 5% of the quota.
The remaining parts of the Mid Ulster district leave us well short of the electoral quota, 25 wards with an electorate of only 59,252:
|Coalisland South||2476||Tamlaght O'Crilly||2467|
|Cookstown East||1974||The Loup||2704|
|Cookstown West||2270||Town Parks East||2320|
We have exhausted the resources to the south and west, and Lough Neagh (and the Lower Bann) constrain us to the east; the only way is north, and I propose to add five wards from the Causeway Coast and Glens district with a total electorate of 11,715:
This is not elegant, but it is sufficient, with a total electorate of 70,967 which is within the variation allowed for Northern Ireland though not within 5% of the quota. The northern spur of Altahullion ward is rather inelegant. It splits rather neatly by taking the townlands north of and including Leeke into the next seat to the north (see below), the townlands of Ardinarive and Straw then being the northernmost in the Glenshane part of the ward, the Leeke Water forming the division line. I do not have access to the census figures, but I doubt that this would pull the seat as a whole below 69,401.
This constituency leans much further south than the Commission’s proposed Glenshane, but it preserves enough (and includes the eponymous pass) so that I feel Glenshane remains a good name. The Commission’s Glenshane would include all five of the Causeway Coast and Glens wards that I propose to include, and 15 of the 25 Mid Ulster wards. (Of the others, 7 would be in the Commission’s North Tyrone at the Lough Neagh end, and the other 3 in the absurd Upper Bann and Blackwater seat.)
I must admit I regard this as the least satisfactory of any of my proposed sets of boundaries. I still think it is better than either the Commission’s proposed Dalriada or the ridiculous Upper Bann and Blackwater. It includes Coalisland, Cookstown, Draperstown and Dungiven which are all reasonably well linked by the A29 and A6 roads.
3.14 Causeway Coast and Coleraine
The effect of keeping the Blackwater as a constituency boundary works itself out fifty miles to the north. With the other adjustments proposed above, it is now possible to propose a northern coast constituency which includes 30 wards, all from the Causeway Coast and Glens district, with a total electorate of 72,383 which is within 5% of the quota. These wards are:
|Castlerock||2546||Portrush and Dunluce||2197|
|Giant's Causeway||2448||Windy Hall||2700|
21 of these are in the Commission’s proposed Dalriada constituency, and nine in Glenshane. The Commission’s proposed Dalriada unites odd parts of the coast with odd parts of the inland territory; the proposal above brings together wards from within a single local government district, based around the population centres of Ballymoney, Coleraine and Limavady.
As proposed above, the ugly salient of the Altahullion ward can be split at the Leeke Water.
3.15 East Antrim
The Glens of Antrim actually look south, along the east coast, at least as much than they look west; whatever the map may tell us, Carnlough is psychologically closer to Carrickfergus than to Coleraine. The remaining four wards of Causeway Coast and Glens district have 9,770 electors, and contra the Provisional Proposals should be included in East Antrim:
|Kinbane||2579||Torr Head and Rathlin||2565|
|Loughguile and Stranocum||2518|
The eastern part of the Mid and East Antrim district has 20 wards with 50,575 electors, and I agree with the Provisional Proposals that they all should be included in East Antrim and the rest of their district should not:
|Ballycarry and Glynn||2617||Greenisland||2363|
|Carnlough and Glenarm||2244||Love Lane||2453|
|Curran and Inver||2469||Victoria||2657|
And six Ballyclare and Jordanstown wards (the latter having been in East Antrim since it was created) make up the numbers from the Antrim and Newtownabbey district, with 15043 electors:
The Commission’s proposals include only Jordanstown in East Antrim, and then another nine Antrim and Newtownabbey wards to the south. I found that Ballyclare was a discrete building block which makes up the numbers. The southernmost border at Jordanstown is a little untidy, but I think it is better than the Provisional Proposals which dances through the streets of Glengormley.
This gives a total electorate for the new East Antrim of 75,388 which is within 5% of the electoral quota.
3.16 West Antrim
The Provisional Proposals for West Antrim are pretty awful, Ballymena and Antrim town both divided from their northern hinterlands and a weird salient reaching east as far as Glengormley, which is not usually regarded as being in the west of the county. This is unnecessary; a perfectly viable constituency can be created around the western ends of the two local government districts concerned.
This means 20 western (Ballymena) wards from Mid and East Antrim with 45,731 electors (the 15 that the Commission would include in West Antrim, plus Cullybackey, Glenravel, Kirkinriola, Maine and Portglenone):
|Ballee and Harryville||2299||Grange||2631|
And 11 Antrim wards from Antrim and Newtownabbey with 26,061 electors (six of these are in the Commission’s South Antrim, and five in the Commission’s West Antrim):
For a total of 71,792 which is within 5% of the quota.
3.17 South Antrim
Finally, the South Antrim of the Provisional Proposals winds from odd streets in Glengormley around Belfast to odd streets in Lisburn; the boundaries as proposed are a good match for ward boundaries, but not for much else on the ground.
A better solution is to combine the core of Newtownabbey, other than Jordanstown, Ballyclare and the two wards in North Belfast, with the territory east of Lough Neagh, north of Lisburn and west of Belfast. Much of this area is already united inside the Antrim and Newtownabbey district, from which we take these 21 wards with 49,111 electors (this includes six of the twelve Antrim and Newtownabbey wards that the Commission proposes to be in South Antrim, six of the sixteen that it would place in West Antrim, and nine of the ten that it would put in East Antrim):
The remainder is eight wards from Lisburn and Castlereagh with 21,386 electors (all of these are in the Commission’s proposed South Antrim):
As observed above under Lagan Valley, my proposed boundary through the northern fringes of Lisburn is not fantastic, but I think it is an improvement over the Provisional Recommendations.
This seat would have 70,497 electors, which is more than 5% below the quota but above the 69,401 threshold.
- Conclusion and other observations
The new system of boundary reviews after every Westminster election cannot but be disruptive to the ties between voter and representative. The Commissioners’ current mandate is to reduce Northern Ireland from 18 seats to 17. Given the massive pre-referendum increase in voter registration in England, Scotland and Wales in the first half of 18, which was clearly not matched in Northern Ireland, it must be considered very likely that the 2023 review (like the aborted 2011-12 review) will be for 16 seats rather than 17.
There is little that the Commission can do about this, but it might be appropriate to note the considerable disruption to local civil society which will be caused by the application of the current legislation. It is not just political parties (though the impact on their internal structures is real and will cause serious inconvenience to the democratic process).
It is no longer the responsibility of the Boundary Commission to recommend the numbers of seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly to be allocated to each constituency; that is set by legislation at 6, falling to 5 for the next election. This means that Assembly representation will also be subject to the same change and uncertainty as Westminster representation. It would surely be better to allocate Assembly seats proportionally between the new local government districts, whose boundaries are unlikely to change.
As I reside and work in Belgium it is unlikely that I shall attend any of the public hearings. I wish the Boundary Commissioners and their staff well in the coming months.