Shape of new general election boundaries if the Constituency Commission opt for a 154-seat Dail (updated based on definitive Census 2011 figures)

Adrian Kavanagh, 29th March 2012

A new Constituency Commission report on election boundaries (for general and European elections) is likely to be published in the next few weeks following the publication today by the Central Statistics Office of definitive population figures for Census 2011. This post will consider what might happen our current constituency configurations if a 154 seat tally was agreed on for the next Dail. While the Commission has a range of options to choose from between 153 and 160 in terms of seat numbers for the next Dail, the likelihood is they may opt for a seat tally towards the upper range of this as continued population growth may require seat tallies to be constantly changing if they opt for a seat tally at the lower end of this scale. This scenario has been considered in the previous post, so this post will instead consider what might happen if the Commission were to opt for a number at the lower end of this scale, say 154 seats.

As noted earlier, the key thing that the Commission will be watching for in this review are constituencies whose population per TD ratios fall outside the 5% variance limit – that is, whose population per TD ratios are either more than 5% above, or below, the state average for this (in the case of a 154-seat Dail, the state average would be 29,794 people per TD). In these cases, the Commission must consider whether they need to make changes to the boundaries/seat numbers for these constituencies. On past precedents, they may opt not to make changes if the level of variance is not much higher than this 5% limit (as happened in the case of Cavan Monaghan in both the 2004 and 2007 revisions) but they must make changes if the level of variance exceeds 7.89% – the maximum level of variance permitted by past commissions (Mayo East in the 1983 revisions).

So what might happen to our current constituencies in the light of the decision to reduce the number of Dail seats and the population changes outlined in the provisional 2011 Census population by area figures, if the Commission opt for a 154-seat Dail?

Carlow-Kilkenny – the current population is fine for this constituency under its present boundaries to remain as a 5-seater (2.2% below the state average) and the combined population of counties Carlow and Kilkenny would not be too large to prevent the return of the Hacketstown area and allow for a five seat constituency comprising of the total area of both counties (with a population per TD average just 0.7% above the state average) – however, in this scenario the Hacketstown area would still be need to provide the Wicklow constituency with sufficient population to allow this to remain as a 5-seat constituency, as will be discussed later.

Cavan-Monaghan – in a 154-seat scenario the constituency’s population per TD ratio (10.3% below the stage average) would be far too low to allow this remain as a 5-seat constituency with its current boundaries and the Commission would be likely to take away a seat from the constituency with a territory transfer to balance the population for it to be appropriate for a 4-seat constituency unit. The West Cavan area may well be transferred out of the constituency to bolster (along with the south Donegal area) a new four-seat Leitrim and Sligo constituency.

Clare – the population per TD ratio for this as a 4-seat constituency falls just outside the 5% variance limit (6.6% below the state average) if the current boundaries (excluding Ballyglass ED) are used, but is not much lower than the state average (1.7% below) if the Commission decide to base the constituency boundary on the existing county boundaries of Clare – either option would probably be acceptable. (However, even with the return of the West Limerick area from Kerry North, the Clare territory in Limerick City would be needed to maintain a 4-seat and 3-seat boundary configuration within Limerick, so the likelihood would be that Ballyglass would remain part of the Limerick City constituency with the Commission opting to permit a 6.6% variance level for the Clare constituency.)

The Cork constituencies – with a population equivalent to 17.4 TDs based on the 2011 Census figures, at least one (and possibly two) of the Cork constituencies would be losing a seat with Cork South Central and Cork North-Central looking the most vulnerable.

Cork East – with population per TD ratio below (4.0%) the state average but within the 5% variance limits, there would be no need to change the boundaries and Cork East will remain as a 4-seat constituency unless change is dictated by more radical changes being made to all of the general election boundaries within the Cork region.

Cork North Central – as a 4-seat constituency, this is well below 5% variance limit in terms of its population per TD ratio (12.0% below the state average), but Cork North-Central could maintain its four seats with significant territory transfers from Cork North-West and/or Cork South-Central

Cork North West – as a 3-seat constituency, Cork North-West’s population per TD ratio falls well outside the 5% variance limit  (8.8% below the state average), but Cork North-West could maintain its three seats with territory transfers from one or more neighbouring Cork constituencies.

Cork South Central – as a 5-seat constituency, the constituency’s population per TD ratio (9.2% below the state average) is too much lower than the state average to allow it remain a 5-seat constituency with its current boundaries, but the constituency could maintain its five seats with territory transfers from one or more neighbouring Cork constituencies.

Cork South West – as a 3-seat constituency, this is below the 5% variance limit in terms of its population per TD ratio (7.2% below the state average), but Cork North-West could maintain its three seats with territory transfers from one or more neighbouring Cork constituencies.

Commentary on Cork region – the census figures would suggest that Cork’s population would be equivalent to 17.4 TDs suggesting one of the constituencies (probably South Central or North Central) would lose a seat, with there exists a strong possibility that a second Cork constituency might lose a seat. A more radical option might involve the (re)creation of a 5-seat (or 4-seat) Cork City constituency and the creation of a range of 4-seat and 5-seat constituencies in the Cork County area, allowing for the number of Cork constituencies to be reduced by one or two.

Donegal North East and Donegal South West – the population of both constituencies would be too small to allow these to remain as a 3-seat constituencies within their present boundaries (with a population per TD ratios of 12.4% below the state average in South West and 7.3% below the state average in North East). One option might be to create a 5-seat Donegal county constituency but the population of the county would be somewhat too high for this (resulting in a population per TD ratio of 8.2% above the state average). As a result, territory transfers involving neighbouring constituencies are likely to ensue, either in order to retain the current two three-seat constituency configuration (involving a sizeable territory transfer into Donegal South-West and a subsequent territory transfer from Donegal South-West to Donegal North-East) or else arising from the decision to amalgamate the two Donegal constituencies into one 5-seater (with the south of the county being transferred into a neighbouring constituency).

The Dublin region – there are are currently 47 Dail seats across shared out across the twelve Dublin constituencies but the population of the Dublin region would be equivalent to just 42.7 seats based on current population figures and a 154-seat configuration. This means that the Dublin constituencies between them would be certain to lose four seats in such a scenario.

Dublin Central – with a population per TD ratio that is 4.5% below the state average (and hence comfortably within the 5% variance limits), Dublin Central could stay as a 4-seater with its current boundaries unless changes to neighbouring constituencies have a bearing here (as might be quite likely).

Dublin Mid West – with a population per TD ratio of 7.3% below the state average, this constituency would probably need a territory transfer from a neighbouring constituency to maintain its current seat allocation, unless the Commission decided to reduce its seat numbers by one (raising the possibility of Saggart and Rathcoole and other areas being transferred into Dublin South West).

Dublin North  – with a population per TD ratio that is 4.1% lower than the state average, Dublin Central could stay as a 4-seater with its current boundaries unless changes to neighbouring constituencies have a bearing here (as might be quite likely), or unless the Constituency Commission makes a conscious effort to reunite Swords town politically.

Dublin North Central, Dublin North-West and Dublin North-East – with the combined population of these constituencies being equivalent to 7.9 Dail seats in a 154-seat context, the three 3-seat constituency configuration involving these North City constituencies would be no longer feasible (and would only be possible with a very large, and rather unsustainable, territory transfer from the neighbouring constituencies of Dublin Central, Dublin North and Dublin West, effectively turning these into Frankenstein constituencies). The most likely solution would be to replace these with two North City 4-seaters (0r a 3-seater/4-seater configuration if the areas in Dublin North-East that are located within Fingal County (Howth/Portmarnock/Balgriffin area) were to be moved into Dublin North)

Dublin South – with a population per TD ratio of 5.7% below the state average, this could stay as a 5-seat constituency with its current boundaries with a small territory transfer into the constituency, but more radical changes might be dictated as a knock-on effect of changes be required for the neighbouring constituencies of Dublin South-East, Dublin South-Central, Dublin South-West and Dun Laoghaire, as could be quite likely.

Dublin South Central – with a population per TD average (14.6% below the state average) that is too small to remain a 5-seater with its current boundaries. But it could possibly become a 4-seat constituency without the need for territory transfers out of the constituency as a 4-seat constituency based on the present boundaries would have a population per TD ratio that would be just 6.8% above the state average – a level of variance that past Commissions have accepted in previous revisions. The most likely scenario here would be that this constituency appears likely to lose a seat (possibly to retain four seats in neighbouring Dublin South-East or Dublin South-West) and some of its territory, unless the constituency was to receive a highly significant territory transfer (equivalent to a population of over 15,000) from one of its neighbouring constituency to allow it to retain its five seats.

Dublin South East – with a population per TD ratio (12.9% below the state average) that is too small to remain a 4-seater with current boundaries, this constituency will require extra constituency from one, or more, neighbouring constituencies to retain its four seats or else may lost some of its current territory to become a three seat constituency. The most likely solutions will involve a territory transfer to, or from, the neighbouring constittuencies of Dublin South Central, Dublin South and/or Dun Laoghaire. A territory transfer in, equivalent to a population of between 10,000 and 12,000, could allow Dublin South East to retain its four seats. A territory transfer out to one of its neighbouring constituencies, equivalent to a population of c. 10,000, could see Dublin South East lose one of its four seats.

Dublin South West – with a population per TD ratio (11.4% below the state average) that is too small to remain a 4-seater with its current election boundaries. This constituency will require extra territory (equivalent to a population of 8,000-10,000) from one, or more, neighbouring constituencies to retain its four seats or else may lost some of its current territory (equivalent to a population of 10,000-12,000) and become a three seat constituency. Either of these solutions will involve territory transfers to, or from, the neighbouring Dublin South-Central, Dublin South and/or Dublin Mid-West constituencies.

Dublin West -with a population per TD ratio that is just 1.6% below the state average, this can stay as a 4-seater with its current boundaries unless changes to neighbouring constituencies have a bearing here or unless Commission decides to take account of the 268 public submissions made to it that called for the political reunification of Swords. The most feasible option here, given that the return of the Swords-Forrest electoral division to Dublin North would leave Dublin West with much too small a population to remain as a four-seater, could well be to move the rest of Swords into Dublin West to make it a 5-seater (with the loss of population to Dublin North potentially being balanced by moving the Howth, Portmarnock and Baldoyle areas into this constituency from Dublin North-East).

Dun Laoghaire – with a population per TD ratio (11.9% below the state average) that is too small to remain a 4-seater with current boundaries, Dun Laoghaire will require extra territory (equivalent to a population of 8,000-10,000) from one, or more, neighbouring constituencies to retain its four seats or else may lost some of its current territory (equivalent to a population of 10,000-12,000) and become a three seat constituency. The most likely solutions will involve a territory transfer to, or from, neighbouring Dublin South East and/or Dublin South.

Commentary: Dublin region set to lose four Dail seats, with losses mainly focused on the inner suburbs (the North City and South City areas) and the constituencies located to the south of the Liffey.

Galway East and Galway West: with population per TD ratios of 7.6% below the state average in Galway East and 5.6% below the state average in Galway West, the Commission may need to consider whether the current 4-seat/5-seat boundary configuration is still feasible for Galway especially as the population would be closer to that required to sustain 8-seats (which, on average, would involve a population per TD ratio that would be 5.2% above the state average) than that required to sustain 9-seats (which, on average, would involve a population per TD ratio that would be 6.5% below the state average). There would be a good chance here that the Commission might decide to take a seat from one of the constituencies while balancing this with a territory transfer out to the other Galway constituency. Then again, the Commission may well decide to maintain the current status quo while engaging in a small transfer of territory from Galway West to Galway East to balance the numbers somewhat.

Both Kerry North-West Limerick and Kerry South are much too small to remain as 3-seaters under their current boundary configurations with the population per TD ratio 9.5% below the state average in Kerry North-West Limerick and 12.8% below the state average in Kerry South. Moving the West Limerick area back with the other Limerick constituencies would leave the Kerry county area with a population level sufficient for this to become a standalone 5-seat constituency with a population per TD ratio just 2.3% below the state average.

The population of the Kildare county constituencies are sufficient to retain a 4-seat Kildare North (with a population per TD ratio 0.7% higher than the state average) and a 3-seat Kildare South constituency (with a population per TD ratio 1.0% higher than the state average) and the boundaries of both constituencies could stay as they are (unless the Commission decides to reunite the Naas area with its rural hinterland, involving the transfer of Naas and a seat from Kildare North to Kildare South). Had the decision not been made to reduce the number of Dail seats from 166, Kildare would have been likely to have received an extra Dail seat in this revision.

Laois-Offaly – with 154 seats, the population per TD ratio for this constituency would be above the state average (2.6%) but well within the 5% variance limit. (This constituency would have been likely to have been divided into two three-seat constituencies had the Commission been working on the basis of 166 seats again.) The return of the south Offaly area to the Laois-Offaly constituency is possible with a 154-Dail seat configuration as a constituency based on the area of the two counties would have a population per TD ratio that would be 5.6% above the state average – somewhat outside the 5% variance limits but much lower than levels of variance that have been permitted by past Commissions in order to avoid breaching county boundaries.

The population of the Limerick City constituency is too small to remain as a 4-seater with its current boundaries (with a population per TD ratio 13.9% below the state average) and that of the Limerick constituency is too small to remain as a 3-seater with its current boundaries (with a population per TD ratio 8.6% below the state average). Moving the western part of the county that is currently in the Kerry North-West Limerick constituency would (just about) ensure the two Limerick constituencies have a sufficient combined population to prevent the loss of a seat (though it may make sense to make Limerick City the 3-seater and have an enlarged 4-seater Limerick County constituency) but only if the Ballyglass ED remains part of the Limerick City constituency and is not returned to Clare. In a 154-seat scenario, the population of Limerick would be closer to that warranting the two Limerick constituencies being awarded only six seats (with a population per TD ratio 7.3% above the state average in this case, as against one of 8.0% lower than the state average in the case where Limerick is awarded seven seats) suggesting that without the Ballyglass ED the Limerick City constituency would be likely to lose a seat in the 154-seat context.  

Longford-Westmeath – the current population levels are fine for this to stay as a 4-seater (with a population per TD ratio 2.0% lower than the state average) and the return of the Castlepollard area to join with the rest of Westmeath county in this constituency would also be feasible in this scenario as this would leave a two-county constituency with a population per TD ratio that would be just 5.0% higher than the state average.

Louth – Louth could remain as 5-seater with present boundaries as its population per TD ratio would be just 3.8% lower than the state average – without the east Meath area (that was moved into the constituency by the 2007 Constituency Commission report) it could return to being a 4-seater Louth County constituency (with a population per TD ratio that would be 3.1% higher than the state average).

Mayo – the population of Mayo county would be much too small for this to remain a 5-seater (with a population per TD ratio 12.3% lower than the state average) but would also be too large for it to become a 4-seat constituency with the county boundaries (with a population per TD ratio 9.6% higher than the state average). A territory transfer equivalent to a population of c.12,000-15,000 people from a neighbouring constituency (from Roscommon-South Leitrim or Sligo-North Leitrim or Galway West) would be required to maintain this as a 5-seat constituency – alternatively a territory transfer equivalent to a population of c.6,000 people (in eastern Mayo) into a neighbouring constituency could see Mayo become a four-seat constituency.

The Meath county population is more than sufficient (with a population per TD ratio 3.0% higher than the state average) to have one 6-seat constituency (if provision for 6-seat constituencies had been allowed by the Electoral Act)/or rather two 3-seat Meath West and Meath East constituencies with their territory drawn entirely from the county area without need for added territory from other counties, such as Westmeath. This is feasible as previous territory transfers involving neighbouring constituencies made by the 2004 and 2007 Constituency Commission reports could be reversed in this scenario. The Castlepollard area could be returned to Longford-Westmeath and the Commission could decide to reduce the number of seats by one in Louth, hence allowing the return of the eastern Meath (Laytown/Bettystown/Mornington) area. But the current status quo involving these constituencies could be maintained without need for any boundary changes, as the population per TD ratios in these two constituencies lie well within the 5% variance limits (4.3% below in Meath West, 3.1% below in Meath East).

Roscommon-South Leitrim and Sligo-North Leitrim are both too small to remain as three seaters based on how their population per TD rations sit relative to the 5% variance limit; 9.4% below the state average in Roscommon-South Leitrim and 10.2% below the state average in Sligo-North Leitrim. Amalgamating these two constituencies into one five seat constituency would not be feasible either (resulting in a population per TD ratio that would be 8.2% higher than the state average) and a 3-seat Leitrim-Sligo consituency would not be feasible either as its population per TD ratio would be 8.7% higher than the state average. However a territory transfer involving either north-western Roscommon or western Sligo (c. 15,000 population) being moved into Mayo could allow for the creation of a 5-seat Leitrim-Roscommon-Sligo constituency. Alternatively, the option of a 3-seat Roscommon-East Mayo and 4-seat Leitrim-Sligo constituency could be feasible with territory transfers involving the neighbouring Mayo, Donegal South-West and Cavan-Monaghan constituencies.

In relation to the Tipperary constituencies, the population of Tipperary South is much too small for it to remain as a 3-seater with its current electoral boundaries  (population per TD ratio 10.8% lower than the state average). The population per TD ratio for Tipperary North would just about fall within the 5% variance limit (4.9% below the state average) but this is only due to the addition of the south Offaly in the 2007 revisions. The creation of a 5-seater Tipperary county constituency would probably be feasible in this 154-seat scenario, as the population per TD ratio for such an entity would be 6.7% higher than the state average – this would also allow for the return of the south Offaly area Laois-Offaly and see the part of Waterford county currently in Tipperary South being reunited in the same Dail constituency as the rest of Waterford county. While such a level of variance has been accepted by past Commissions, a small territory transfer (equivalent to a population of c.2,000) to Waterford would be sufficient to bring the level of variance for a 5-seat Tipperary constituency within the 5% variance limit .

Waterford – a 154-seat scenario would see the population per TD ratio for the Waterford constituency area (5.9% below the state average) fall below the 5% variance limit – this would not be an issue if the constituency were to reclaim the part of the county that currently lies within the Tipperary South constituency (resulting in a population per TD ratio that would be 4.5% lower the state average and well within the 5% variance limits) and this could be an option if the Commission were to opt to create a 5-seat Tipperary constituency.

Wexford – with a population per TD ratio that is just 2.5% below the state average, this can stay as a 5-seat constituency with its current boundaries unless changes to neighbouring constituencies have a bearing here, which would appear to be unlikely in this case.

Wicklow – with a population per TD ratio that is just 5.3% below the state average, this could probably stay as a 5-seat constituency with its current boundaries (this is outside the 5% variance limits but not excessively so) unless changes to neighbouring constituencies have a bearing here. In a 154-seat constituency scenario Wicklow would need the Hacketstown area to maintain a sufficient level of population for it to remain as a 5-seater (the Wicklow county area as a 5-seat constituency would have a population per TD ratio 8.3% below the state average).

Finally, the potential changes to constitiuency boundaries outlined here are specific to a 154-seat context – if the Commission opt for a larger number of seats (as seems likely) then some of the options outlined here would not be feasible, as is evident by contrasting the analysis here with that for the previous post which was concerned with a 160-seat scenario.

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About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer in Maynooth University Department of Geography.
This entry was posted in Census2011 definitive figures, Constituency Commission, Constituency information, Election boundaries and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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