Council backs call for Public Inquiry into Boundaries Commission review handling

Boundary Commission change divides Dungiven's Main Street between Mid Ulster and West Tyrone constituencies. DER0518GS045
Boundary Commission change divides Dungiven's Main Street between Mid Ulster and West Tyrone constituencies. DER0518GS045

Derry & Strabane District Council has voted by a majority to call for a public Inquiry into Boundary Commission’s handling of the 2018 review of Westminster Electoral Boundaries.

Sinn Fein Councillor Mickey Cooper had proposed that the council acknowledged there were “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.”

His motion, at the council’s monthly meeting, stated that the fresh proposals were “far removed from their provisional proposals” and claimed they were “remarkably similar to the DUP proposals as submitted to the commission”.

Colr. Cooper said that as a result of this, many in the Nationalist/Republican community have lost confidence in the Boundary Commission and that “therefore, this council, in reflecting that loss of confidence, is calling for a Public Inquiry into the Boundary Commission’s handling of the 2018 Review.”

Colr. Cooper said that he was raising concerns for both the Westminster and any forthcoming Assembly elections.“They basically brought in a reversed version of their own proposals of 2016 and never gave any explanation as to why such a radical alteration,” he claimed.

“The commission engaged in this wholesale revision to their original proposals without ever appearing to defend any of the rationale which led to those proposals being made in the first place.”

SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney also expressed concerns over the revised proposals and said that his party believed it was critical that a human rights impact assessment was carried out and published in full.

Colr. Tierney said his party welcomed the Sinn Fein motion, but added: “We don’t believe the ‘Johnny Come Lately’ approach is going to be enough as they have failed to submit any concerns.”

He added that Sinn Fein could deliver all the petitions they wanted, but that it would be much better if they took their seats at Westminster, where major decisions affecting the north were being made.

“The way to stand up for the nationalist community is to use the political power we have been gifted to protect people in our communities,” he said. “To put it simply, there’s no point having political power if all you are going to do is put up posters.”

He also proposed an amendment to the Sinn Fein motion but that was voted down by other parties.

DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock said Sinn Fein had refused to engage with the Boundary Commission public consultation process for two years and did not submit “one word of evidence” until the end of the process, when a one page document was submitted.

“Would they then snub the Inquiry they are calling for?” she asked.

She said that by contrast the DUP had submitted a 27 page response and made it clear they too, did not believe towns in Northern Ireland such as Dungiven, Coleraine or elsewhere should be divided in two.

“There’s a myth the reversed proposals are some sort of carbon copy of the DUP submission,” Alderman McClintock said.

She added that under the new proposals the DUP actually stood to lose a seat in South Antrim.

Alderman McClintock said that the Boundary Commission was an independent body led by a High Court Judge.

“Public consultation closed on Monday. Sinn Fein are trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted.”

Independent Colr. Paul Gallagher said the issues being debated were around ‘squiggly lines’ drawn by the British.

“This amendment and this motion is like two bald men fighting over a comb.”

Addressing the comments about Sinn Fein not taking their seats at Westminster, Colr. Cooper said that people had voted for abstentionist Sinn Fein MPs and he asked whether the SDLP were criticising the electorate for their decisions.

In the end, Colr. Cooper’s motion was carried with 23 councillors voting in favour, 10 against and a further four abstaining.