STRANGFORD TO LOSE SAINTFIELD AND MONEYREAGH IN REVIEW

STRANGFORD is to lose Moneyreagh and Saintfield, but gain large numbers of largely nationalist voters to the south.

That’s the final plan put forward for new Westminster and Stormont constituency boundaries, coming amid a redrawing of political maps across Northern Ireland.

The shift will see rural areas to the west of Comber lopped off to join South Belfast, while Strangford’s southern border massively expands to take in countryside areas around Downpatrick and, on the coast, stretches down almost as far as Ardglass.

New arrivals from Drumaness to Quoile to Chapeltown will bring with them a solid Nationalist vote, while the western lands to be taken out of Strangford are broadly Unionist, leaving a very changed political landscape.

The new Strangford would have a very good chance of electing at least one Nationalist MLA, likely from solidly SDLP rural areas around Downpatrick.

Or it could lead to Alliance consolidating their power throughout the constituency, as it was more than 2,000 SDLP transfer votes that led to the party winning a second MLA in a nailbiter race for Strangford’s final Stormont seat last year.

At the very least it would see the constituency become much more competitive, though voters in Moneyreagh and Saintfield could struggle to make their voices heard in the much more urban focus of their new home – which is to be called Belfast South and Mid-Down.

The proposed alterations are broadly the same as an interim version suggested last year – though much less radical than an initial revamp put forward in 2021, which would have thrown all of Downpatrick into Strangford.

That radical reworking from two years ago sparked fears that it would create an unbalanced constituency with two major population centres at opposite ends of the district competing for attention and resources, and saw four of Northern Ireland’s five main political parties file official objections to the idea.

Last year’s interim version was strongly objected to by MP Jim Shannon at the time; this week, however, he struck a more conciliatory tone towards the largely identical final plan for his constituency.

“I haven’t yet had time to go through the report thoroughly and know that the party will be looking at each constituency individually,” he said. “However I am certainly disappointed to be losing the wonderful areas of Saintfield and lovely Moneyreagh.

“I carry out monthly constituency surgeries in Saintfield and have gotten to know so many of the local people, who truly are the best of people; to lose this support and to know that I will be unable to speak for them or work on their behalf will certainly be a change.

“I am looking forward to the challenge of a new area – but as to the detail of the report, we will study this carefully in due time as a party and in particular with my MLA colleagues.”

The boundaries of constituencies all over Northern Ireland are being redrawn in an attempt to balance out the electorate in each one.

Some constituencies have too many people in them under current government guidelines, while others have too few.

Redrawing Strangford to such an extent, however, means that the MP and MLA constituencies are moving increasingly far away from the council districts of Ards.

Soon local MLAs and Mr Shannon will find themselves representing significant parts of Newry, Mourne and Down Council in addition to the current Ards districts.

Most of the current crop of MLAs won their spurs as Ards councillors, as did Mr Shannon, so the revamp will mean trying to get to grips with brand new territory with different political outlooks and requirements.

The change has been set down by the Boundary Commission, but still has to be signed off by Westminster. It will likely come into effect during the autumn.