Harris confirms he would support holding future referendum on limiting number of TDs

Minister says ‘serious consideration’ needed of whether number of TDs should grow in line with State’s population

Serious consideration should be given to whether the number of TDs continues to increase in line with growth in Ireland’s population, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has said.

The Fine Gael TD made the comments as he confirmed that he would support the idea of holding a referendum on limiting the number of TDs in the Dáil in the future. An Coimisiún Toghcháin, the Electoral Commission, is to deliver its highly anticipated review of Dáil constituencies on Wednesday.

The State’s population has passed 5.1 million people and the commission is to announce proposals to increase the number of TDs from 160 to between 171 and 181 to reflect the increased numbers living in the country.

The Constitution stipulates that there must be one TD for every 20,000 to 30,000 people. Currently, all but one of the 39 Dáil constituencies has more than 30,000 people per TD.


The commission’s chief executive, Art O’Leary, has previously said two TDs would have to be added to the Dáil every year to keep up with Ireland’s population growth under current rules governing the number of deputies.

Mr O’Leary said the commission may conduct research on the level of representation per head of population and it is possible that the organisation could recommend a referendum on the issue at some point in the future.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Mr Harris noted some of the terms of reference of the commission’s constituency review including the “strict” population guidance in the Constitution.

“I do think we’re going to get to a point where we’re going to have to consider that as a country,” he said of the constitutional clause, adding that he would “absolutely” support the holding of a referendum in the future on limiting the number of TDs.

“I do think beyond that body of work being completed it is worth giving serious consideration to the fact – are we going to just continue to increase the number of TDs forever in a day? Or is there a view as to what an appropriate number of members of our national parliament is?”

The Minister said he believed “that’s a conversation we should have” but that the issue would be “one for the next Dáil” to consider.

Mr Harris was also asked about the possible implications of the commission’s review for his own constituency of Wicklow.

Population growth means that Wicklow has too many people for it to remain a five-seater, but not quite enough to be neatly split into two three-seaters without needing for some areas in bordering counties being tacked on.

Splitting the constituency could also create a headache for sitting TDs given all five are based in the northeast of the county, either in Greystones or Bray.

On the potential impact of the review for his area, Mr Harris said: “You play the hand you’re dealt.”

He added: “The people of Wicklow have been very kind in electing me anytime I’ve asked them to elect me to the Dáil and we’ll deal with whatever scenario happens.”

Mr Harris was speaking in Drogheda after officially opening the Craft Skills Training Hub by Louth Meath Education and Training Board. It will allow the college to provide training for more than 300 apprentices a year.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times