The partisan impacts of non-partisan redistricting: Northern Ireland 1993-95

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Space is manipulated for political purposes in a great variety of ways, and its restructuring is frequently a focus of conflict. The nature of such conflict is explored here. Legislation requires that all parliamentary constituencies in the United Kingdom are periodically reviewed by independent Boundary Commissions. The Fourth Periodic Review in Northern Ireland began in 1993 and coincided with a period of intense political activity, associated with what was commonly termed 'the peace process'. Political parties, anxious to ensure that the resulting boundaries favoured their partisan interests (and, in the case of Sinn Fein, keen to establish their democratic bona fides), invested considerable effort in their attempts to influence the outcome. The Commissions' recommendations became the subject of claim and counter-claim regarding bias towards one or other of the province's two main communities - Nationalist and Unionist - and as a result of that conflict, they were revised with priority given to a different criterion. This paper evaluates those claims with a close inspection of the redistricting process, illustrating how an ostensibly non-partisan process is partisan in both its conduct and its outcome.

Keywords: Local Inquiries; Northern Ireland; boundaries; elections; redistricting; religion

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 1998

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