Constituency boundary shake-up
Sir, – One of the notable features of the recent boundary report is the number of counties where a relatively small bit of the county is now to be put into a larger neighbouring county (Home News, June 22nd). This issue now affects portions of Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Donegal, Galway, Kildare, Mayo, Meath, Tipperary and Westmeath. Bits of all of these are now to be part of constituencies dominated by a much larger county. The problem would be reversed in the case of Waterford and Limerick if the report’s recommendations are followed. The issue also possibly distorts voting patterns in the receiving county.
The reason for this is that the constituency commission seems to have prioritised a slide rule approach. The key driver is achieving population per constituency which at most deviates about 4 per cent from the national average. As with so many other aspects of Irish life, they are doing this, I believe, because of an over zealous interpretation of a High Court decision, in this case the early 1960s O’Donovan case. This arose because of an unconstitutional use of power by Fianna Fáil, trying to draw constituencies where the representation per member varied from about 16,000 in an allegedly strong Fianna Fáil area in Galway to 23,000 in an allegedly weak Fianna Fáil area in South West Dublin.
If, for example, I were a citizen in south Donegal, I am fairly sure I would feel my constitutional rights would be better protected in an under-represented Donegal five- seat constituency, rather than in a “line-ball” four-seat Sligo-Leitrim configuration. I also doubt that citizens of Letterkenny would be overly concerned at under-representation arising because it was necessary to keep south Donegal within the constituency.
I am highly sceptical that the O’Donovan decision requires small areas of counties to be attached to much bigger areas in this way, where the alternative is a relatively slight bit of over- or under-representation.
I suspect a number of these recommendations may be the cause of local controversy. The most obvious focus is likely to be the four-county constituency of Sligo- Leitrim which stretches from Cavan town to Ballina and from Longford to Donegal town. The objections here are likely to be focused on size, but it is perhaps the “fragments” issue which is more critical. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The report of the Constituency Commission has once again brought to the fore the ridiculous provision in the 1997 Electoral Act which states that “the breaching of county boundaries shall be avoided as far as practicable”.
In the Waterford constituency (which is subject this time to only minimal changes) a number of electoral areas have been transferred from Tipperary South, despite being in the immediate hinterland of Clonmel and in the bailiwick of Mattie McGrath, who is naturally unhappy with the proposal.
At the same time, suburban residents living on the northern outskirts of Waterford city vote for politicians whose bases are mainly in Kilkenny and Carlow (45km and 80km away). This situation is replicated around the country, wherever county boundaries run through urban areas. Residents of such peripheral areas often find that their concerns are peripheral to those of their elected representatives.
As the Act will soon have to be revised to take account of the new number of TDs, there is now an opportunity to replace the provision on county boundaries with a more sensible provision taking account of how urban areas relate to their natural hinterlands. – Yours, etc,