Dail could be cut by 20 seats - Kenny


THE MEMBERSHIP of the Dáil could be reduced by as many as 20 deputies, depending on the results of the next census in 2011, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said last night.

Speaking to reporters at the MacGill Summer School, Mr Kenny said that, based on existing population figures, the Dáil could be reduced from 166 seats to 142.

Consideration would have to be given to the preservation of county boundaries in drawing up constituencies and he could not predict the results of the next census, but he expected there would be scope for a reduction of “somewhere in between 10 and 20”.

“This won’t apply in the next election. The 2011 census will throw up its own figures. At the existing tolerance level of between 20,000 and 30,000 you could actually reduce the number of TDs to 142 without any constitutional amendment or any constitutional change.

“So the first thing I’ll do is wait until I see the result of the 2011 census.

“Fine Gael have already said we will establish an electoral commission to look at all aspects of elections, including electoral registers to see that they are valid and accurate, but on existing tolerance levels you could get down as far as 142.

“So in reality you are probably talking somewhere between 10 and 20.” At present there was a TD for every 20,000 to 30,000 citizens with a tendency to go for the lower population figure.

He pointed out that, “the independent commission which draws constituency boundaries is given a remit generally not to breach county boundaries,  but no matter where you start you’re going to have this problem, be it in Leitrim or be it in Dublin Northwest”.

Another factor was that, “however cynical the public may be about politics, they do want their politicians to be able to be available to them when they need them”.

As a result, he said: “If you reduce the number, you increase the population that they service, you have got to see that that’s provided for properly.”

Commenting on the McCarthy report recommendation for a 5 per cent cut in social welfare rates, Mr Kenny said: “I’m not looking at that now at all.

“What I’m saying clearly is that the way you deal with the social welfare problem is that you invest in job-creation and job-protection.”

Job-creation should be prioritised ahead of social welfare cuts: “What you need is to deal with employment, job-creation  and job-protection and get people back to work.”

Asked about Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan’s statement that a cut in the minimum wage in certain sectors might be considered, Mr Kenny replied: “I don’t support that. I have already said this on many occasions: to attempt to reduce the minimum wage will drive more and more people into the social welfare bracket.”

In a speech prepared for the summer school last night, he said a reduction in the number of TDs should be carried out as part of a “comprehensive agenda for a new politics in Ireland”.

“In due course I will appoint a transition team to oversee and plan the commencement of effective work for the next government.

“As taoiseach I intend to be the enforcer of government decisions and policy: to make it happen in the nation’s interest.

“The ministers who don’t measure up will be moved on and ministers who abuse their positions will be dismissed.”

He said Fine Gael was “deeply concerned at the idea of social welfare cuts when so many other areas of public expenditure remain untouched and unreformed”.

Mr Kenny said the McCarthy report was “a very valuable contribution to the national debate” but added that, “we also need to be very careful about assuming that it is the only way forward”.

Economist and author Michael O’Sullivan urged the building of  a “Second Republic” in Ireland, pointing out that, “some very profound structural changes are necessary in order to meet future challenges”.

The chief executive of Hewlett Packard in Ireland, Martin Murphy called for, “a new enterprise culture, focused on exports of goods and services to the global economy, as a vital part of any national strategy for getting Ireland back on track”.