Sweeping changes to constituency boundaries can now be expected


The rise in population coupled with the pledged reduction in the number of seats by the Coalition will give rise to major adjustments

THREE DÁIL constituencies exceed the constitutional limit of population per TD, according to the census figures.

With a constituency review due to be completed between now and the end of June sweeping changes in constituency boundaries can be expected.

The five-seat Laois Offaly constituency has the highest ratio of population to Dáil deputy at 30,565, followed by the three-seat Kildare South and the four-seat Kildare North, which are marginally over the 30,000 limit.

According to article 16 of the Constitution, the ratio of population to TD has to be between 20,000 and 30,000.

For much of the State’s history that ratio was close to the 20,000 figure in order to maximise the number of TDs in the Dáil.

However, the rapid rise in population combined with the political pledge to reduce the number of TDs means the new constituency revision will have a ratio of somewhere between 28,676 and 29,988.

The terms of reference for the last commission obliged it to draw constituency boundaries that would result in a Dáil of between 164 and 168 TDs.

In the event it stuck with the 166-seat Dáil that has been a feature of Irish politics since 1981.

However, all of that is going to change because Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has given the new commission revised terms of reference that provide for a minimum of 153 TDs in the next Dáil and a maximum of 160.

The commission is unlikely to pick the minimum figure as that would leave 29,988 people for every TD, a bare two below the constitutional limit. If the population continues to rise at anything like its current rate the constitutional limit would be breached by the time of the next election.

It means that the commission is likely to go close to the maximum number of 160 TDs set out in its terms of reference.

That will still not leave a lot of room for manoeuvre given that the average population per TD at that level will be 28,676.

There is an anomaly in the Constitution in that the number of TDs is related to population and not to eligible voters.

Given that some urban constituencies have large immigrant populations containing many non-voters means there will inevitably be a discrepancy between the different parts of the country in terms of the ratio of TDs to voters.

Big changes in constituency boundaries are inevitable given the rise in population coupled with the reduction in the number of seats.

There are currently 43 constituencies, 11 five-seaters, 15 four-seaters and 17 three-seaters. With the number of Dáil seats facing a minimum cut of six, the commission will have to make some fundamental decisions about where the balance should lie for the next election.

The most heavily populated constituencies like Laois Offaly, Kildare North and South will see boundary or seat changes. The next most heavily populated constituencies are Dublin West, Longford Westmeath, Carlow Kilkenny and Wexford and all will have to be adjusted.

Major adjustments will also apply in the least populated constituencies which are mainly in inner city urban areas.

The constituency with the lowest population is Dublin North Central, followed by Dublin South Central, Limerick City and Dublin South East. Kerry South, Mayo and Dublin North West are the next three with lowest populations.

Big changes across Dublin urban constituencies like North Central, South Central and South East appear inevitable and the only question is whether the commission will try and work with the current framework or apply a whole new rationale to the capital.

It seems inevitable that Kerry will be turned into a five-seater. Last time around the commission retained two three-seat constituencies in Kerry by merging a large chunk of West Limerick with North Kerry. That position is hardly sustainable and one five-seat constituency in Kerry looks inevitable, with two constituencies in Limerick.

There is also a possibility that the two three-seat Tipperary constituencies could be made into one five-seater. A substantial chunk of Offaly was added to Tipperary North last time to keep it at three seats.

Commissions had traditionally tried to avoid breaching county boundaries but in the last revision a large number of them were broken and that practice is likely to continue.

The commission is taking submissions from interested parties and a number of TDs have already made their views known to it. In the next few weeks all the parties will be assessing the census figures before making detailed submissions to the commission about what changes they favour.

The five-person commission is chaired by High Court judge Mr Justice John Cook. The other four members are the clerk of the Dáil, Kieran Coughlan, the clerk of the Seanad, Deirdre Lane, the Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, and the secretary general of the Department of the Environment, Geraldine Tallon.

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has given the new commission revised terms of reference