New carve-up to have dramatic effect on political landscape
The Coalition came to power promising to cut the number of TDs in the Dáil by 20. A rising population, as revealed by the census, put paid to that. However, there will be radical changes to the constituenciesTHE CONSTITUENCY changes announced in June have been the most dramatic since the infamous Tullymander of the 1970s.
Jimmy Tully of Labour was minister for local government back then and carved up the constituencies to supposedly favour Labour and Fine Gael candidates. As it transpired, the ruse backfired spectacularly and Fianna Fáil coasted home with a landslide in 1977. It led to the task of recommending changes to constituency boundaries and seat numbers being put in the hands of an independent commission.
There’s been a huge carve-up this time around, but it’s all above board.
The Coalition promised to reduce the number of TDs in the Dáil as part of its programme for government. Fine Gael’s Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan promised as many as 20 seats being pruned from the 166-chamber. But this year’s census – with a surprising rise in population – put paid to that (and besides Labour was never quite as enthusiastic about such a precipitous drop).
But the upshot is still substantial change. The 32nd Dáil will have eight fewer TDs than the current Dáil, the 31st. The number of constituencies will fall from 43 to 40. And to accommodate all that change, there have been wholesale changes to most other constituencies, with radical redrawing of the maps.
Only eight of the 43 have remained untouched and – inevitably – county boundaries have been breached, with swathes of bigger counties such as Galway, Mayo and Donegal being sacrificed to allow smaller counties such as Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon to retain their constituencies.
Dublin has also been affected by a dramatic redrawing with the loss of one constituency in the north side and the once mammoth five-seat Dublin South being crumpled into the new three-seat Dublin Rathdown.
Overall, the number of five-seaters, at 11, remains unchanged.
However, some former five-seaters such as Cavan-Monaghan, Dublin South, Cork South Central, Dublin South Central, and Mayo are no more.
They have all lost seats, though a fifth five-seater, Laois-Offaly, has been split into two three-seat constituencies. Elsewhere new five-seaters have been created in Kerry, Donegal, Tipperary, Dublin South West, Fingal and Dublin Bay North (most created by joining two three-seaters).
The knock-on effect is that the number of three-seat constituencies will be 13 instead of 17 and the number of four-seat constituencies will be 16 instead of 15.
It’s a difficult business predicting the winners and losers. Before the 1977 changes, Jimmy Tully made assumptions about support for government parties that were not borne out. And it is much too early to even begin second-guessing voter intentions for the next general election, still some four years away.
That said, there are a number of constituencies where Government deputies will invariably lose out. That is because the reconfigurations mean they will hold all the seats there, or all but one of the seats following the reduction.
The two most obvious examples are Dublin South and Mayo. At present, Mayo has four Fine Gael TDs out of five. It would be impossible for it to hold all four in a redrawn constituency of four seats, notwithstanding the presence there of Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Therefore it is vulnerable to losing one if not two seats there.
Similarly, Dublin South is being reduced from five seats to three. It’s a fickle constituency but Independent Shane Ross is likely to consolidate support there. Consequently, there will be four Government TDs vying for two seats. At least one of the Fine Gael TDs will not return and Labour’s Alex White will also be vulnerable. Like elsewhere, some TDs will have to actively consider transferring to nearby constituencies. If White moves to Dublin South West, the situation will be similar to the one facing Fianna Fáil in the 2007 election. Batt O’Keeffe moved when his Ballincollig base transferred to Cork North West. It led to the very unusual phenomenon of three sitting Fianna Fáil TDs contesting a three-seat constituency. If White transfers, there will be three Labour TDs in an admittedly enlarged five-seater. But something will have to give.
Cavan-Monaghan is being reduced to four; that’s a Fine Gael loss. They won’t retain all three. It would be an upset of gobsmacking proportions for neither Fianna Fáil nor Sinn Féin to win one seat there.
Similarly, Labour or Fine Gael are vulnerable in the new five-seat Dublin Bay North as they have five TDs in both constituencies. Three of them are Labour TDs, so a Labour loss there, at a minimum, looks certain.
Dublin Central is being reduced to three seats from four, having lost most of middle-class Navan Road. That will put Government TDs Paschal Donohoe of Fine Gael or Joe Costello of Labour under pressure. Based on the profile of the areas being lost, it’s Donohoe who will have most to worry about. Dublin South Central will also drop from five to four seats. One of the two Labour Party seats may be vulnerable. It will depend on how well People Before Profit TD Joan Collins establishes herself.
Galway East has been the biggest casualty of a boundary breach. The constituency is reduced from four seats to three and Fine Gael (with two) and Labour (with one) cannot hope to fill the three seats. Paul Connaughton jnr looks the most vulnerable as he has lost a lot of his heartland with the transfer of the northeast of the county (from Ballinasloe to Glenamaddy) into the new three-seat Roscommon-Galway. Fianna Fáil’s Michael Kitt has also been badly affected. If both stand next time round, expect at least one to switch into Roscommon-Galway.
Tipperary, Kerry and Donegal will each lose one TD, and on the returns from the 2011 elections, Independents look the most vulnerable in all three. There are three Independent TDs in Tipperary. Michael Lowry is safe but Mattie McGrath and Séamus Healy (allied to the ULA) will struggle. The big loss of territory in North Tipperary to the new Offaly constituency may also place at risk the seat of Fine Gael’s Noel Coonan.
In Donegal, Thomas Pringle will have a fight on his hands. You can safely say that there will be two Sinn Féin seats, one Fine Gael and one Fianna Fáil. Pringle will be in the battle for the last seat with a Fine Gael candidate, based on current standings.
In Kerry, it looks like it will be Tom Fleming who may struggle most, although the three Government TDs won’t be resting on their laurels either in a county that is always tight, always changeable.
Cork South Central is going to be fascinating. It’s one of the only constituencies where Fianna Fáil won two seats. That’s going to be much tighter for them now that it has lost a seat. But then its two TDs are party leader Micheál Martin and finance spokesman Michael McGrath. Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer has lost a lot of heartland territory with Bishopstown votes crossing over to the north of the Lee and may be the loser.
A few constituencies have increased their seat count. Laois-Offaly has been increased from a five-seater to two three-seaters. Only two of the five TDs in situ are based in Offaly. That means the extra TD will come from there. Based on the February 2011 election (where Fianna Fáil dissident John Foley was the best-placed Offaly candidate), that could be a Fianna Fáil gain. Likewise, increasing Dublin North to a five-seater (that includes Swords) will make Daragh O’Brien a contender.
The enlarged Dublin South West, now with five seats, will see a gain for either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, or a smaller left-wing party (especially if Labour performs poorly).
The four-seat Sligo-Leitrim (taking in a little of south Donegal) could provide a gain either for Labour’s Susan O’Keeffe or Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry.
TDs WHO ARE VULNERABLE:
John Conlon (FG, Cavan-Monaghan);
Paul Connaughton (FG, Galway East);
Peter Matthews (FG Dublin South);
Paschal Donohoe (FG Dublin Central);
Noel Coonan (FG, Tipperary South);
John O’Mahoney (FG, Mayo);
Seán Kenny (LP, Dublin North East);
Michael Conaghan (LP, Dublin South Central);
Jerry Buttimer (FG, Cork South Central);
Thomas Pringle (Ind, Donegal South West);
Tom Fleming (Ind, Kerry South);
Alex White (LP, Dublin South).