WEST Belfast MP Paul Maskey says he will not take any changes to the electoral make-up of West Belfast for granted if suggested Westminster boundary changes are given the go-ahead.
Mr Maskey was speaking after recommendations to reduce the number of constituencies in the North were released this week by the Boundary Commission. Although the document has to go out for a 12-week consultation, in its current form it would see the electoral map reduced from 18 constituencies to 16, with South Belfast being carved up and amalgamated into expanded South-West and South-East seats.
West Belfast will gain six electoral wards from South Belfast in the proposed carve-up. These wards include Finaghy, Malone, Musgrave, Shaftesbury, Upper Malone and Windsor.
The predominantly unionist areas of Shankill, Highfield and Glencairn in the current West Belfast electoral constituency will be absorbed by Belfast North.
The review also seeks to reduce the number of MLAs in Stormont by 12. This will again impact on West Belfast’s Assembly representation which currently stands at five Sinn Féin and one SDLP.
Speaking about the proposals, Mr Maskey said it would mean “a massive change for West Belfast”.
“It will be a lot of hard work to go through these proposals and find out what is best and exactly what it means,” he said.
“There’s one thing for sure, as MP for West Belfast I want to make sure we get the best possible scenario out of this and that it’s something that will benefit every single citizen in West Belfast, because no matter what the boundary is I will continue to work as hard for every citizen no matter where they’re from.”
When asked if it the adoption of the proposals would mean a consolidation of Sinn Féin’s vote in what deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness once called “the safest seat in Ireland”, Mr Maskey said he “would not be taking the electorate for granted”.
“I don’t think anybody else should either,” he said.
“You do that at your peril. In the last 24 hours alone I have heard politicians speaking only of themselves in relation to these proposals and that’s the wrong place to start from.”
Speaking about the proposals, Upper Falls SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood said: “The SDLP has established a working group to study closely the boundary changes and the impact on Belfast and other parts of the North.
“There is a strong argument that Belfast has a long tradition of having four seats and there is an argument to expand the current constituencies in order to reflect Belfast’s city status and natural urban hinterland.”