On 9th February 2023, the new Electoral Commission for Ireland (An Coimisiún Toghcháin) was established to make reports and recommendations in relation to constituency boundaries arising from the 2022 provisional census results, and the requirements of Article 16.2.2 of the Irish Constitution.
The Commission’s first two actions were to publish:
“ a statement setting out the relevant provisions of the Constitution in relation to Dáil constituencies to which the commission is required to have regard in preparing its report”, and to launch a public consultation on boundary changes for Dáil and European Constituencies .
The consultation runs until 10th May 2023 and Sluggerites can submit comments by email to [email protected]
The Chair of the body is Judge Marie Baker and of interest in the North, is that one of the four members is Alex Attwood, former SDLP MLA who has also served on the UK Electoral Commission.
The current Dáil consists of 160 members. The Constitution requires 1 TD per 20,000 to 30,000 population. Currently only the 3 member Limerick County constituency has less than 30,000 population per TD. With a census population in the State of 5,123,536, the Commission has already concluded that the size of the next Dáil will be between 171 and 181 members. It’s an interesting aside that the population requirement is based on absolute numbers – not eligible voters. 1000 Ukrainian nationals arriving in one constituency could, for example, push a seat over the threshold for another TD, regardless of the fact none of them would be able to vote in such an election.
The challenging work for the Commission is to try to expand the Dáil within the other constraints of fairness and equitable treatment required by the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
Briefly these are
- Equitable treatment across the country
- Each constituency shall return 3, 4 or 5 members
- Breaching county boundaries to be avoided if possible
- Contiguity (ie no detached portions)
- Recognition of physical features (mountains and lakes)
- Continuity with existing constituency arrangements (ie don’t try starting all over again with a blank sheet of paper)
The changes to be proposed therefore cannot be piecemeal but are also constrained by what is there now. For example, Dublin Fingal is the most “overpopulated” constituency at 34,138. It’s already a five seater so can’t increase further. One option would be to split it in two 3 seaters giving one TD per 28,000. However to do this would require all other constituencies across the country to have a similar size. It may not be possible to deliver this across the State. The “jigsaw” may deliver a different spread and therefore a more complex arrangement may be required in Fingal.
Of no consideration by the Commission of course is what the changes will mean for individual political parties. Doubtless they will be busy examining ways of submitting change proposals using the formal grounds outlined above, but which also happen to serve well their own aspirations for seat count!
I have already submitted my proposal to abolish the 5 seat Donegal Constituency and revert to 2 x 3 seaters which pertained prior to 2016. This has the merit of matching the county boundaries and at around 27,500 per TD meets the number count. However what losing Bundoran and Ballyshannon would do to the Sligo-Leitrim constituency may scupper my plan. Similar issues will greet the Commissioners in each of the 39 constituencies.
They will certainly be busy.
After a career of 27 years in railway management and 7 as a Non Exec NHS Trust Director, 2 of them as Vice Chair of Manchester Mental Health, Harper retired to West Donegal with his husband and two cats to grow fruit and veg. A former member of the GB Labour Party he served as a County Councillor and a Parliamentary candidate. He is a member and canvasser for Alliance but writes in a personal capacity.