Revised boundary proposals unveiled
Ballymena is to be tied with much of its traditional Co Antrim hinterland in a major change to Boundary Commission proposals for revised Northern Ireland Westminster constituencies, it was revealed.
The market town is the fulcrum of the Democratic Unionist Party's fundamentalist Paisley dynasty and is likely to be linked with Antrim town after a fierce lobbying campaign designed to preserve connections between the two largely unionist centres, new recommendations from the Commission showed.
The coalition plans to reduce the number of Northern Ireland MPs from 18 to 16 but that ambition may never be realised after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he would block the changes when David Cameron indicated he could not deliver on reform plans for the House of Lords.
Another major shift by the Commission from earlier proposals will see six western electoral wards which were in Fermanagh and South Tyrone being moved to Mid Tyrone and six others being transferred in the opposite direction in the Coalisland area.
Former DUP leader Ian Paisley Snr was MP for North Antrim, with Ballymena as its heartland, from 1970 and his son Ian Paisley Jnr has been the incumbent since 2010.
The Commission has decided to reconfigure the Mid Antrim and South Antrim constituencies and to rename the former as East Antrim. Ballymena will become part of South Antrim, instead of being linked with parts of coastal Antrim. The Commission has also recommended renaming the North Antrim constituency as Coleraine and North Antrim.
The review of constituencies was launched in March 2011 and was ordered by the coalition Government to shrink the size of parliament. The three-member Commission in Northern Ireland is led by deputy chairman and retired deputy High Court Judge Mr Justice Richard McLaughlin.
The aim of the review was to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and in the process end up with more equal-sized constituencies.
A spokesman for the Commission said: "Following a comprehensive consultation process which included a series of public meetings, we received a number of detailed alternatives to our provisional proposals. We have considered all the responses carefully and have consequently made some important adjustments. These are set out in our revised proposals.
"We are now inviting people to comment on the revised proposals. This will be the last opportunity to influence the shape of Northern Ireland's parliamentary constituencies before we prepare our final report to the Secretary of State."