Friday, 14 March 2008

Twin nationalisms carve-up assumes a physical and administrative shape

When Ed Moloney launched his new biography of Paisley at the Ulster Hall earlier this week he commented in his address “I have always been of the belief that both these parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, needed to be closely watched. Now that they are running the country, they need to be watched very, very closely”. The truth of his remark was reinforced yesterday as the twin nationalisms axis moved to perpetuate the figurative carve-up of Northern Ireland’s politics over which they have presided, with a literal carve-up of the province’s local government.

The DUP and SF between them have reached a deal to re-organise Northern Ireland’s 26 councils on an eleven council model. Previously the DUP, like all the other parties other than Sinn Féin had insisted that 15 councils would be the ideal number to streamline administration whilst also ensuring against Balkanisation and an effective repartitioning of Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist Party and the Alliance Party have stuck to this contention, but the DUP have been won over to 11 councils, just in time to avoid local elections which were due next year.

The 11 council plans do not maximise efficiency, but neither do they avoid a sectarian carve-up. This compromise actually delivers the worst of both worlds. Northern Ireland will now be divided very clearly between a nationalist west and a unionist east, with all the difficulties for minorities that that entails. Belfast, meanwhile, has been gerrymandered in favour of Sinn Féin. The four Westminster constituencies which comprise the city in any sane observer’s eyes will not be used to determine the new city boundaries. Instead swathes of Castlereagh, well within the city’s ring-road and serviced regularly by city service buses will become part of Lisburn. Preposterously Newtownabbey will form a council with Antrim.

These arrangements make no administrative sense, nor do they reflect the conception of residents as to where they live. Any resident of Castlereagh or Newtownabbey will identify themselves as living in Belfast, rather than in Lisburn or Antrim. The bizarre redrawing of Lisburn’s boundaries to justify its city status is already an illogical aberration. The fact is that Belfast has been gerrymandered in order to satisfy the demands of Sinn Féin. Northern Ireland’s largest city has become another bargaining chip in the constant game of horse trading between these two abominable parties.

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