Adrian Kavanagh, 20th February 2012
Some months after the publication of provisional population by area figures by the Central Statistics Office for the 2011 Census, a new Constituency Commission was set in place to begin the process of redrawing European and general election constituency boundaries in light of the changes in population between 2006 and 2011 as revealed in these figures. The other main factor for the new commission to consider was the decision to reduce the number of TDs in the next Dail, in keeping with government reccomendations and the stipulations set out in the 2011 amendment to the Electoral Act. The process commenced much earlier for this Commission than for previous ones, in which the process has started after the publication of the final, or definitive, population by area census figures by the CSO. Following the ruling on the McGrath/Murphy high court case in 2007, the Commission must now commence the process of redrawing Dail and European election constituency boundaries after provisional census figures are published although they cannot publish the final report until after the final or definitive population by area census figures have been published. Given that there tends to be little difference between provisional and final census figures for large areas such as constituencies, very few final tweaks may be needed should a draft version of the final report be available ahead of the publication of the final census figures and the published report is likely to be available some weeks after these figures are released.
In total, 533 public submissions were made to the Constituency Commission between the receipt of the first submission on 22nd September 2011 and the closing date for submissions (10th January 2012). This compared highly favourably with the level of submissions for the two previous cases, with 335 submissions made in the case of the 2007 Constituency Commission and just 99 submissions made in the case of the 2004 Constituency Commission.
As just 37 submissions were general in scope – either relating to the entire state for the purposes or general elections and/or European elections or else specifically focusing on a particular region (e.g. Dublin, Munster) – this meant that most of the submissions were specifically focusing on concerns associated with a specific area, or constituency, or small number of adjacent constituencies. While well over eighty percent of the submissions to the 2007 were concerning the political division of Leitrim county, the main area/issue focused on in submissions to the 2011/12 Commission was Swords with at least 268 (50.3% of the total number of submissions) submissions relating to requests that the political division of the town, arising from changes made in the 2007 Commission’s report, be addressed. The area that received the next highest level of attention was Leitrim (63 submissions, or 11.8% of the total number of submissions), although the level of submissions requesting that the county be politically reunified within the same Dail constituency was well down on the 2007 level, a response no doubt to a sense of the disgruntlement amongst Leitrim people that the level of submissions sent in 2007 did not bring about the desired change. Other areas/constituencies attracting a significant amount of submissions – albeit not to the same level as for Leitrim and Swords – were Terenure (26 submissions, or 4.9% of the total number of submissions), the Cork constituencies (25 submissions, or 4.7%) and Laois-Offaly – the south Offaly area (20 submissions, or 3.8%).
303 of the submissions were made by males while 193 were made by females, meaning that males accounted for 61.1% of all the submissions that were made, excluding those made by groups or those submissions where the gender of the person making the submission could not be deciphered. A significant proportion of the submissions made by females (129, or 66.8%) were made in relation to the Dublin region, with much of these submissions relating specifically to the Swords issue (126 submissions, or 65.3% of the total number of female submissions). By contrast, while the Dublin region (160 submissions, or 52.3% of the total number of male submissions) and in particular the Swords issue (144 submissions, or 47.1%) also accounted for a significant proportion of the total number of male submissions, this was a decidedly smaller proportion than was the case for female submissions.
18.0% of the submissions were made by identified politicians or political groups (96 of the submissions), involving either current TDs, Senators, MEPs or councillors, or former elected representatives/election candidates, or party branch members, or else made on behalf of individual political parties or branches of these. In all, individual (or joint, in the case of two of the senators) submissions were made by 39 TDs, 7 senators, 22 councillors and one MEP, as well as there being 25 submissions from political parties or brancjes of these. Politician-based submissions accounted for a significantly higher levels of submissions in certain regions as opposed to others, with just 7.9% of all submissions in the Dublin region being made by politicians (no doubt relating to the volume of submissions on Swords and Terenure from non-politicians) as opposed to levels of 29.3% for Leinster, 19.6% for Munster and 12.5 for Connacht-Ulster. Politicians accounted for a significantly higher number of the submissions made by males (57, or 18.6% of the total number of male submissions) as opposed to those made by females (15, or 7.8% of the total number of female submissions).