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Why 174 TDs is the right number for the next Dáil

In any constituency review some people will be disappointed, writes the chair of the Electoral Commission

“Democracy is a system where people are counted, not weighed” – these words, written nearly 100 years ago by philosopher Muhammad Iqbal in a different context, are as relevant to us today as they were then. Today, as the debate over the constituency review moves on to the political impact of the recommendations, we should not forget that it is the people of Ireland who are central to the make-up of individual constituencies and the wider electoral landscape, precisely because it is the people who elect those representatives.

In every constituency review there will inevitably be some people who are disappointed with the outcome. However, the mandate of an Coimisiún Toghcháin is to examine and seek to protect and enhance the structures that determine how the people are represented, not who will represent them after the ballots are cast and the votes counted.

An Coimisiún Toghcháin, Ireland’s new electoral commission, itself barely six months old, has laid its independently assessed recommendations before the Oireachtas as to how we consider our Dáil constituencies should look for the next election.

The outcome of our recommendations, which are grounded in the population figures from Census 2022, will, if accepted and passed into law, see 174 TDs elected across 43 constituencies in the next general election. Seven constituencies remain entirely unchanged since the last review (Clare, Cork South-West, Donegal, Dublin Central, Kerry, Limerick County, and Waterford).


However, the headline numbers belie a much more complex picture of Ireland’s rapidly changing electoral map.

Constituency Review 2023

The fundamentals of this constituency review are governed directly by our Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, which provides that there should be one TD for every 20,000-30,000 people and that the level of representation should be the same throughout the country as far as practicable. In addition, electoral reform laws passed last year added other criteria, which included the need to respect county boundaries; the need for continuity; to be cognisant of geographical features; and that each constituency must have three, four or five seats. That legislation also fixed the range of seat numbers (171-181) which we could recommend.

The commission recommends 174 TDs for the next Dáil as we consider that this number of TDs allows us to best meet our constitutional and legal mandate. We examined closely the possibility of higher numbers within the range available to us, but to have done so would have resulted in proposing changes to almost every constituency in the country including many new breaches of county boundaries, with a disproportionate number of additional three-seat constituencies. In effect, the higher number would not have met our statutory conditions.

We are obliged by the legislation, and by general principles of public law, to have regard to submissions received in regard to the exercise we embarked upon. People told us very clearly in their submissions that avoiding and removing county boundary breaches matters to communities. During our extensive deliberations, I am pleased that we managed to reduce county boundary breaches which see people voting in a constituency outside of their county. We recommend the removal of seven of the 10 existing breaches of county boundaries, the reduction of two others, and the proposal of just three new breaches.

Furthermore, in our recommendations we have been able to maintain a relative balance of seats across constituencies – as the number of three-seat constituencies will be 13 instead of nine, the number of four-seat constituencies will be 15 instead of 17 and the number of five-seat constituencies will be 15 instead of 13.

Historically, constituency reviews were carried out by ad hoc groups that were disbanded once their report was published. This approach did not allow for lessons to be learned, for a level of consistency or to establish an institutional awareness of the nuances of individual areas and communities. We have been set a high value on transparency in our work and, in our report, we have sought to explain our decisions in unprecedented detail. The submissions are available on our website, and the website fostered a lively debate on the issues during the period of our deliberations.

Democracy requires constant change, constant vigilance, constant innovation and constant review to ensure the greatest possible level of engagement and ownership. Making sure that the constitutional link between each TD and the people they represent is – and remains – strong is key. We believe this review achieves that.

While the addition of 14 TDs to our national parliament will be one of the largest increases in the history of the State, the reality is that we are barely keeping ahead of the constitutional imperative to have each TD representing 20,000-30,000 people. Each TD in a 174-seat Dáil will represent an average of 29,593 people.

It is rarely expressed and is not readily apparent that our population is projected to be growing at a rate that justifies or requires approximately two TDs each year.

While the core principles of democracy are rooted in the Constitution, we need to be open-minded about how our systems and structures will continue to evolve, and we are not blind to the requirements and opportunities to strengthen that democracy.

Before the next census in 2027, we propose to commence and guide a national conversation about whether the Dáil should continue to grow to match the increase in population. The commission is also conscious of the size of the constituencies, and whether the current upper limit of five-seaters best meets the democratic purpose.

We look forward to engaging with the public across our broad range of functions, all focused on enhancing and protecting Ireland’s democracy and future electoral events. The extent and range of public engagement with the process we have today concluded is an encouraging sign that the principles that ground the electoral process do and are seen to matter.

Ms Justice Marie Baker is chairperson of An Coimisiún Toghcháin, The Electoral Commission