Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness had announced the creation of an efficiency review panel to look at, inter alia, the number of MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
"The FM/DFM would put to the Assembly for approval proposals for the panel’s remit, which might include the size of the Assembly and the departmental structure …"
At the time the DUP was on record as favouring a reduction in the number of MLAs for reasons of efficiency. The conclusion of this blog was that such a reduction would not, in any significant way, alter the unionist-nationalist balance in the Assembly. However, that calculation was done on the basis of a reduction in the number of MLAs per constituency. Such a reduction would tend to penalise the last-elected candidate, often barely elected without reaching the quota.
A new twist comes today, when it is reported that the Conservative Party are toying with a reduction in the number of MPs at Westminster - i.e. a reduction in the number of constituencies - with a target of around one MP per 77,000 electors:
With an electorate of 1,165,026 (on 1 October 2009), that would imply a reduction in the number of MPs in Northern Ireland to around 15, and a consequent redrawing of the constituency boundaries.
" … we will instruct the Boundary Commission to set out detailed proposals to reduce the number of MPs by ten percent for the next General Election after this one. ... Our proposals would simply increase the average size to around 77,000 – the size of many constituencies today including my own."
(George Young, shadow Leader of the Commons, speech at Tory Party conference)
For the Assembly, such a change would immediately require a reduction in the number of MLAs.
The Northern Ireland Act sets out that:
So if there are only 15 constituencies, then there will be only 90 MLAs. Although this is one of the options that this blog examined, the fact that there would still be six MLAs per constituency, but the boundaries would be different, would make any estimate of the outcome impossible.
(1) The members of the Assembly shall be returned for the parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland.
(2) Each constituency shall return six members.
If the Assembly constituencies continue to elect six MLAs apiece, though, the quota required to get elected would not be any different from today as a proportion of the total vote in each constituency. Thus there would be no obvious impact on the situation for smaller parties and independents. The only way in which the 'community' balance in the Assembly would be affected would be through the boundary changes – for instance by reducing the number of Belfast seats to three – but such changes can only be guessed at, at this stage.
Of course, nothing is to stop the Northern Ireland Act being amended as well, to reduce the number of MLAs per constituency to 5 (giving a total of 75), or even 4 (for a total of 60 MLAs). The outcomes of such radical changes remains unknown.