Belfast Telegraph

Seven constituencies to change under Northern Ireland boundary reform proposals

Only nine parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland will remain unchanged following reforms proposed by the Northern Ireland Boundary Commission.

The market town of Ballymena, the fulcrum of the Democratic Unionist Party's fundamentalist Paisley dynasty, 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.

Other proposals from the Commission's sixth review of constituency boundaries include:

  • To transfer Carnlough ward to the reconfigured East Antrim constituency;
  • To transfer Upper Braniel ward from Strangford to Belfast South East;
  • To reconfigure the boundary between Mid Tyrone and Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Of the 16 provisional constituencies, nine remain unchanged and a further three are only affected by the transfer of a single ward.

The Boundary Commission has suggested the South Belfast constituency could be divided between expanded Belfast South West and South East seats to reduce the number of Belfast seats from four to three.

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."

The consultation period will be from October 16 to December 10, 2012. After considering the responses to this final consultation, the Commission will submit its final recommendations to the Northern Ireland Secretary before October 1, 2013.

Meanwhile, in Britain early analysis of amended constituency boundary proposals confirms findings that Tories would have won the last general election outright if the changes had been in force in 2010.

A report by Plymouth University election experts professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher for the Press Association, BBC, ITN and Sky News suggests David Cameron's party would have squeaked home with a majority of two - four if the Speaker's seat is included in its total - and a mandate to govern alone.

Tensions are likely to smoulder on between coalition parties, with Tories keen to get the changes through Parliament while Liberal Democrats insist they will vote against the package next October in a tit-for-tat over the failure of Lords reform.

The Boundary Commission for England today unveiled amendments to last year's recommendations, part of a scheme to cut MPs' ranks by 50 to 600 and achieve closer equality in constituency electorates.

Prof Rallings and Prof Thrasher say these would see Labour strongholds dismantled in the North and Wales, with Tories faring better, reflecting population shifts from North to South and from cities to suburbs.

The Tory-dominated South East would lose one seat, against seven in the North West.

The professors say that, following revised recommendations for England and Scotland, Tories could be "defending" 301 seats in 2015 - five down on 2010; Labour just 225 - 33 down; and Lib Dems 49 - down eight. The Greens' Caroline Lucas would lose her Brighton seat and Plaid Cymru would drop from three to two seats. The SNP's total of six would be unaffected. The Speaker's constituency brings the total to 600.

Welsh boundary commission revisions, due next week, are not expected to change the overall pattern. Northern Ireland, where no mainland parties have won seats for decades, would be left with 16 MPs - down two.

The professors add that the new boundaries "do not eliminate the disproportionate way in which the parties receive seats for the votes they get".

"If the result in 2010 had been reversed - Labour had got 37% of the vote and the Tories 30% with all other parties staying the same - Labour would have won 318 seats on the new boundaries and Tories 199 - a Labour overall majority of 36 compared with a notional Tory one of two.

"Tories will still need to be some seven points ahead of Labour to win a majority next time. By contrast, Ed Miliband needs only to be four points ahead to secure his own overall majority."

Belfast Telegraph

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