Dáil constituencies: where boundaries lie

Constituency Commission proposes to raise the number of TDs from 158 to 160

The Constituency Commission is proposing to raise the number of TDs from 158 to 160, the maximum allowed under the current law. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

The Constituency Commission is proposing to raise the number of TDs from 158 to 160, the maximum allowed under the current law. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

A feature of the latest Dáil constituency revision is that 17 of the 39 constituencies will exceed the constitutional limit for the ratio of population to each TD.

The Constitution specifies that the number of TDs should be fixed at not less than one for each 30,000 of population for the State as a whole. Although that means there is nothing unconstitutional about a significant number of constituencies exceeding the national average, it does raise the issue of whether the number of TDs should be increased in the future, or a constitutional referendum held to increase the population ratio.

The Constituency Commission is proposing to raise the number of TDs from 158 to 160, the maximum allowed under the current legislation, to take account of the rising population. That leaves a national average 29,762 people per TD but in 17 constituencies the average is over 30,000. The biggest excess is in Dún Laoghaire, which has 31,270 people for each of its TDs, an excess of five per cent over the national average.

At the other extreme, the lowest population per TD in a recommended constituency is in Dublin North-West at 28,199, which is a variance of five per cent from the national average. The Commission points out that on the basis of article 16.2.2 of the Constitution, total Dáil membership could be fixed by legislation at between 159 and 238. There would certainly not be a public appetite to increase the number of TDs to 238 but the prospect of raising the current limit of 160 or changing the Constitution will have to be confronted.

Total Dáil membership was under 150 up to 1980 when it was increased to 166. It remained at that figure until the 2011 general election but was reduced to 158 in fulfilment of a Fine Gael election promise. The population is now 41 per cent higher than it was in 1979, when the number of TDs was greater, so it is time that serious attention is given to dealing with the anomaly.

As for the revision itself, the most notable changes recommended by the Constituency Commission are the increase in the number of seats in Dublin Central and Kildare South from three to four, with some changes in boundaries as a result.The increase in seats in Dublin Central will be a great help to Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, who won against the odds in a three-seater in 2016. The other big change is the return of a combined Laois Offaly constituency with five seats, rather than two three-seaters.

Overall, the number of Dáil constituencies is being reduced by one to 39 with the number of five-seat constituencies increasing from 11 to 13, the number of four-seaters increasing by one to 17 and the number of three-seaters reducing from 13 to nine. The increase in bigger constituencies will give a more proportional result at the next election.

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