Changes for Strangford and South Down in plan

Changes for Strangford and South Down in plan

12 September 2018

FINAL plans to redraw Northern Ireland’s electoral boundaries throw up significant changes for the South Down and Strangford constituencies, the latter of which is set to disappear.

The move is part of an overall plan to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 but before anything happens, the formal redrawing of the political landscape has to be sanctioned by the House of Commons and House of Lords. 

The number of constituencies in Northern Ireland will be reduced by one to 17 with the new plan published on Monday increasing the number of voters in South Down to 76,924 — an increase of almost three per cent.

The plan proposes that the Killyleagh area — moved into Strangford 22 years ago — will return to South Down. While the move has been welcomed by the SDLP, it has been criticised by the DUP.

The current Strangford Westminster constituency is to be broken up and renamed Mid Down, covering an area stretching from Banbridge to Newtownards which will have an electorate of almost 77,800.

Portaferry and a large part of the Ards peninsula, also currently in Strangford, will move into North Down. 

The new Mid Down constituency will also include part of the current Lagan Valley constituency which is to become defunct under the revised proposals.

In addition to the transfer of the Killyleagh area into South Down, plans to move the Crossgar area from the constituency into Strangford have been aborted, while it is proposed to move Loughbrickland into South Down from Lagan Valley.

The new plan illustrates how Northern Ireland’s political borders could look like in years to come and there has been a mixed political reaction to moving Killyleagh back into South Down and retaining Crossgar in the constituency.

Rowallane councillor Billy Walker believes people in Killyleagh will be “unhappy” about plans to move the area into South Down which is currently represented by Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard who does not take his seat at Westminster.

“Current Strangford MP Jim Shannon is recognised as one of the hardest working MPs at Westminster and while there are plans to create a new Mid Down constituency, I have no doubt the overwhelming majority of people in the Killyleagh area want to be represented at the heart of government in London by an MP who takes his seat,” he said.

“Ballynahinch, Saintfield, Killyleagh, Derryboye and Kilmore and part of Crossgar are currently in Strangford and I have no doubt voters in these areas will want to be part of the new Mid Down constituency. From my point of view, I would like to see all of Crossgar in it.”

Cllr Walker said he hopes the proposed boundary changes will not be rubber stamped, suggesting there is not an appetite for change among people in Killyleagh to move back into South Down.

But former South Down MP Margaret Ritchie, believes the retention of Crossgar in South Down and the plan to reinstate Killyleagh in the constituency is welcome.

“It would appear that the integrity of the historic constituency of South Down has remained intact with the addition of Loughbrickland on the western flank. However, it would appear that the Boundary Commission has been listening to submissions made at their inquiries and has retained Crossgar within the historic boundary,” she continued.

“An interesting feature has been the addition of the Killyleagh electoral ward which was removed from the constituency about 22 years ago. If this is the case, then this is a welcome move in that it would reinstate historic social, trading, cultural, economic and educational ties within the South Down constituency.”

The former MP argued the plan to retain Crossgar in South Down and reinstate Killyleagh in the constituency ensures that the existing economic, educational, health, social, parish, and transport ties that exist and will continue.

Miss Ritchie added: “The recommendations ensure that the local population has a defined identity within the new constituency of South Down providing that greater level of homogeneity.

“Such proposals would ensure that communities in Crossgar and Killyleagh can identify with their neighbours in Lecale and Downpatrick with whom they have had strong trading, health and economic links for many decades.”