Public support for Irish unity amongst the Northern Ireland electorate has increased in recent years, with a recent Lucid Talk poll suggesting that a third of the electorate would vote for unity were a referendum to take place. There has been scant discussion, however, on what the politics of a new 32 county state might look like. Would the two largest political parties in the South, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, dominate an all-Ireland Parliament?
The Constitution of Ireland states:
The number of members shall from time to time be fixed by law, but the total number of members of Dáil Éireann shall not be fixed at less than one member for each thirty thousand of the population, or at more than one member for each twenty thousand of the population.
At the 2016 Irish General Election, there were approximately 30,000 people per TD, so the number of TDs is around the lowest number permitted by the constitution. Northern Ireland, with its 1.88m population, would be entitled to at least 63 TDs in an all-Ireland Dáil. However, if all of the 17 constituencies suggested in the latest re-districting proposals elected 4 TDs each, the resulting 68 TDs would be well within the number suggested by the Constitution.
Firstly, I re-ran the forecast model made for last year’s Assembly Election, changing the constituencies to reflect the new electoral map, and also to reflect the fact that the DUP and Sinn Féin have made gains in opinion polls since last year’s Assembly Election at the expense of the UUP and the SDLP. The following table shows the estimated seat probabilities for the 17 constituencies.
The model suggests that under the new constituencies, and given current levels of support, the DUP would expect to win between 34 and 37 seats, Sinn Féin would win 31-34 seats, the UUP and the Alliance Party would win six each, and the SDLP would win between four and six seats.
Amongst the other parties, the model suggests that the Greens will lose their seats in South Belfast and North Down, People Before Profit will lost their seat in West Belfast, Independent Unionist Claire Sugden will lose her seat, but that TUV MLA Jim Allister would narrowly retain his.
To forecast what the outcome might be if each constituency elected four TDs rather than five MLAs, I ran the model and changed the number of members per seat from five to four. The seat probabilities are shown in the table below.
The model suggests that, were a four member per constituency Dáil election to be held in the 17 new constituencies, the DUP would win 31 seats, Sinn Féin 24, the UUP would win five seats (all of them narrowly), the Alliance Party would win between three and six, whilst the SDLP would have two secure seats and a chance of picking up as many as eight. Neither of the Greens, People Before Profit, nor the TUV would be expected to win a seat.
It is likely that unionists would comprise a majority of Northern Ireland’s 68 TDs, however given the circumstances that might be seen as somewhat of a pyrrhic victory.
If Northern Ireland elected 68 TDs in line with what the model suggests, and the same TDs were elected in the 26 counties as was the case at the 2016 General Election, the new 32 county Dáil would look like this.
It would require 113 TDs to form a majority in this hypothetical Dáil, and it is hard to see how a government could be formed without at least two of the largest four parties governing together, which for various historical reasons would be difficult to envisage.
Support for independent candidates in the South has fallen somewhat since the 2016 election. However, even with fewer independent and small party TDs in the Dáil, it is likely that governing coalitions in a united Ireland would by necessity involve traditional rivals needing to put aside their quarrels and work together. In that respect, perhaps Irish politics post reunification might not be as different from contemporary Irish politics as you might think.