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 coming weeks after the publication of final/definitive population statistics for Census 2011 by the Central Statistics Office today.
This post will consider what might happen our current constituency configurations if a 160 seat tally was agreed on for the next Dail and in light of the provisional Census 2011 population levels published by the CSO last year. 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.
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 160-seat Dail, the state average would be 28,677 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 definitive 2011 Census population by area figures, if the Constituency Commission were to opt for a 160-seat Dail Eireann?
Carlow-Kilkenny – the current population is fine for this constituency under its present boundaries to remain as a 5-seater (population per TD ratio is just 1.6% higher than the state average), but the population is not 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 (which would have a population per TD ratio that would be 4.6% higher than the state average). Ultimately the decision on whether Hacketstown returns to Carlow-Kilkenny or not would be largely shaped by what happens with Wicklow rather than this constituency. In a 160-seat scenario, Wicklow would not need this area to make up the numbers to keep it as a 5-seat constituency.
Cavan-Monaghan – would be in similar situation to last two Constituency Commission reports – population per TD ratio would be lower than 5% variance limit but not to an excessive degree (6.8%). The Commission might decide to keep boundaries as they are, based on the precedent set by the 2004 and 2007 reports where they also decided not to change the constituency’s boundaries even though the population per TD ratio was more than 5% below the state average. However, if they are looking for extra territory to bolster a four-seat Leitrim and Sligo constituency they may well look for this in west Cavan, resulting in a smaller 4-seat Cavan-Monaghan constituency.
Clare – the population per TD ratio for this as a 4-seat constituency falls just below the state average (2.9% below) if the current boundaries (excluding Ballyglass ED) are used, or just above the state average (2.1% above) if the Commissions decides to base the constituency boundary on the county boundaries of Clare – either option would be acceptable. (With the return of the West Limerick area from Kerry North, the Clare territory would not be needed to maintain a 4-seat and 3-seat boundary configuration within Limerick).
The Cork constituencies – with a population equivalent to 18.1 TDs based on the 2011 figures, it looks likely as if one one of the Cork constituencies will be losing a seat with Cork South Central and Cork North-Central looking the most vulnerable.
Cork East – with population per TD average just below (0.3%) the state average, there is no need to change the boundaries and Cork East will remain as a 4-seater unless dictated by more radical changes being made to all of the Cork election boundaries
Cork North Central – as a 4-seat constituency, this is well below 5% variance limit in terms of its population per TD ratio (8.5% below the state average), but Cork North-Central could maintain its four seats with territory transfers from Cork North-West or Cork South-Central
Cork North West – as a 3-seat constituency, this is below (albeit only slightly) the 5% variance limit in terms of its population per TD ratio (5.2% below the state average), but Cork North-West could maintain its three seats with territory transfers from one or more of its neighbouring Cork constituencies. The Commission would also have the option of retaining the constitiuency boundaries as they are as the level of variance does not exceed the absolute maximum degree of variance (-7.89%) permitted in previous boundary revisions, but decisions to be taken in relation to other neighbouring constituencies will have a significant bearing here.
Cork South Central – slightly below 5% variance limits (-5.7% below state average) to remain a 5-seater, much too large at present to become a 4-seater – a territory transfer may be required but in this case Commission would also have option of leaving boundaries as they are – unless the commission decides to make changes to keep Cork North-Central as a 4-seater and requires territory from Cork-South Central in order to do so.
Cork South West – no need to change boundaries here on the basis of population levels, the population per TD ratio is below the state average but is still well within the 5% variance limits (3.6% below state average) to remain a 3-seater – the Commission would have the option of leaving boundaries as they are, unless chages are required due to changes involving neighbouring Cork constituencies.
Commentary on Cork region – the census figures would suggest that Cork’s population would be equivalent to 18.1 TDs suggesting one of the constituencies (South Central or North Central) would probably lose a seat. A more radical option might involve the (re)creation of a 5-seat (or 4-seat) Cork City constituency and creation of two 5-seat and one 4-seat constituencies in the Cork County area, allowing for the number of Cork constituencies to be reduced by one.
Donegal North East and Donegal South West – while the population of the South West constituency would be too small to allow this remain as a 3-seater with its present boundaries (with a population per TD ratio 9.0% below the state average), the North East population per TD ratio would be within 5% variance limit (3.7% below the state average) and so could remain as is. Territory transfer from North East to South West could help maintain both these as 3-seaters, but the Commission would have to tolerate a breach of the 5% variance limit in one or probably both of these cases. Another option might be to create a 5-seat seat Donegal constituency, while transferring out an area equivalent to c.15,000 population to balance the population per TD ratio.
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 44.4 seats based on current population figures and a 160-seat configuration. This means that the Dublin constituencies between them are certain to lose two seats in these changes and may well lose three seats.
Dublin Central – with a population per TD ratio that is just 0.8% below the state average, this can stay as a 4-seater with its current boundaries unless changes to neighbouring constituencies have a bearing here.
Dublin Mid West – with a population per TD ratio that is just 3.7% below the state average, this can stay as a 4-seater with its current boundaries unless changes to neighbouring constituencies have a knock-on effect.
Dublin North – with a population per TD ratio that is just 0.3% below the state average, this can stay as a 4-seater with its current boundaries unless changes to neighbouring constituencies have a bearing here.
Dublin North Central, Dublin North-West and Dublin North-East – with the combined population of these constituencies equivalent to 8.2 Dail seats based on the provisional 2011 census figures, the three 3-seat constituency configuration involving these North City constituencies is 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 creating a series of 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 located within Fingal County (Howth/Portmarnock/Balgriffin area) was to be moved to Dublin North – probably making this a 5-seat constituency)
Dublin South – with a population per TD ratio that is just 2.0% below the state average, this can stay as a 5-seat constituency with its current boundaries unless changes to neighbouring constituencies of Dublin South-East, Dublin South-Central, Dublin South-West and Dun Laoghaire are to have a bearing here, as could be quite likely.
Dublin South Central – with a population per TD average (11.3% below the state average) that is too small to remain a 5-seater with its current boundaries, this constituency appears likely to lose a seat (possibly to retain four seats in Dublin South-East) and territory, unless constituency receives a significant territory transfer (equivalent to a population of c.10,000) from a neighbour constituency (possibly the South East Inner City area from Dublin South East) to help it retain its five seats.
Dublin South East – with a population per TD average (9.5% below the state average) that is too small to remain a 4-seater with current boundaries, this constituency will require extra territory from a neighbouring constituency 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 (South West Inner City or Terenure area) from Dublin South Central or to Dublin South Central (as noted above), which would either leave two 4-seaters, or a 3-seater and a 5-seater, in the Dublin South City area.
Dublin South West – too small to stay as a 4-seater with current boundaries (population per TD ratio is 7.9% below the state average), but this disparity could be solved with small territory transfer (equivalent to a population of c. 3,500) from Dublin South and/or Dublin Mid West.
Dublin West -with a population per TD ratio that is just 2.2% above the state average, Dublin West can remain as a 4-seat constituency without requiring changes to its current boundaries unless changes to neighbouring constituencies are to have a bearing here or unless the Commission decides to take account of the 268 submissions call for the political reunification of Swords. The most feasible option for the reunification of the Swords Town area, given that the return of the Swords-Forrest electoral division would leave Dublin West with much too small a population to remain a four-seater, could well be to move the rest of Swords (an area with a population level almost equivalent to one Dail seat) into Dublin West to make it a 5-seater (with the loss of population to Dublin North potentially being balanced by moving Howth, Portmarnock and Baldoyle into this constituency from Dublin North-East).
Dun Laoghaire – Dun Laoghaire is too small to stay as 4-seater with its current boundaries (population per TD ratio is 8.4% below the state average). This disparity could be solved by small territory transfer equivalent to a population of over 4,000 from Dublin South East or Dublin South.
Commentary: Dublin region set to lose two or three Dail seats, with these losses to be focused on the inner suburbs (North City and South City areas).
Galway East and Galway West: with the population per TD ratios at just 4.0% below the state average in Galway East and 2.0% below the state average in Galway West, these can stay as 4 and 5 seaters respectively with no need to change their boundaries.
Both Kerry North-West Limerick and Kerry South are too small to remain as 3-seaters under their current boundary configurations with the population per TD ratio 6.0% below the state average in Kerry North-West Limerick and 9.4% 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 1.5% above the state average.
The population of the Kildare county constituencies are sufficient to retain a 4-seat Kildare North (population per TD ratio 4.7% higher than the state average) and a 3-seat Kildare South (population per TD ratio 4.9% higher than the state average) constituency and the boundaries of both constituencies will probably remain as they are unless the Commission decides to reunite Naas with its rural hinterland, potentially resulting in the transfer of the Naas area and one seat from Kildare North to Kildare South. Had the decision not been made to reduce the number of Dail seats, the Kildare constituencies would have been likely to have received an added Dail seat in this revision.
Laois-Offaly – This constituency has the highest population per TD ratio of any constituency in the state (30,565 people per Dail deputy) and Laois-Offaly 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. With the population per TD ratio somewhat above (6.6%) the 5% variance limit (and ), a further territory transfer out of this constituency (involving areas in south Offaly and Tipperary North) may be required though the Commission would have the option to leave the boundaries as they are at present. The return of the south Offaly area to the Laois-Offaly constituency is not possible with a 160-seat configuration as the population per TD ratio for a two-county Laois-Offaly constituency would be 9.7% above the state average.
The population of the Limerick City constituency is too small to remain as a 4-seater (with a population per TD ratio 10.5% below the state average), while the population per TD ratio in Limerick is just slightly outside the 5% variance limit (-5.1%). Moving the western part of the county that is currently in the Kerry North-West Limerick constituency would ensure the two Limerick constituencies (with an average population per TD ratio 4.4% below the state average for these) would have a sufficient combined population to prevent the loss of a seat, with (though it may make sense to make Limerick City the 3-seater and have an enlarged 4-seater Limerick County constituency, especially if the Ballyglass ED was to be returned to Clare.)
Longford-Westmeath – the current population levels are fine for this to stay as a 4-seater (with a population per TD ratio 1.8% higher than the state average), but the return of the Castlepollard area to join with the rest of Westmeath county in this constituency would not be feasible as this would leave the constituency with a population per TD ratio that would be 9.1% higher than the state average.
Louth – It would be OK for Louth to remain as 5-seater with present boundaries as its population per TD ratio would be almost exactly the same as the state average (just 0.1% lower than the state average). Without the east Meath area, which was moved into the enlarged Louth constituency with the 2007 revisions, Louth could return to being a 4-seater constituency based solely on the county area (if the Commission were willing to accept a +7.1% variance level for this).
Mayo – The Mayo population is too small for this to remain a 5-seater (with a population per TD ratio 8.9% lower than the state average) but it is too large for it to be a 4-seat constituency with its present boundaries (with a population per TD ratio 13.9% above the state average arising in a 4-seat scenario). A small territory transfer equivalent to a population of 6,000 people from a neighbouring constituency (from Roscommon-South Leitrim or Sligo-North Leitrim) could help maintain Mayo as a 5-seater – alternatively a territory transfer equivalent to a population of 10,000 people (in eastern Mayo) into a neighbouring constituency could see Mayo become a four-seat constituency.
The Meath county population is more than sufficient (although probably slightly too large with a population per TD ratio 7.0% higher than the state average) to have one 6-seat constituency (if that was to be allowed by the Electoral Act)/or rather two 3-seat Meath West and Meath East constituencies with their territory for these being drawn entirely from the county area without need for added territory from other counties, such as Westmeath. But as the Castlepollard area cannot be returned to Longford-Westmeath and if the Commission decides to keep Louth as a 5-seat constituency, then the current status quo involving these constituencies is likely to be maintained without need for any boundary changes in the north Leinster region, as the population per TD ratios in the two Meath constituencies lie very close to the state average (0.6% below in Meath West, 0.6% above 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. However the degree of variance involving both of these constituencies – with population per TD ratios of 5.9% below the state average in Roscommon-South Leitrim and 6.7% below the state average in Sligo-North Leitrim – has been allowed by past Commissions, so the Commission could well just opt to retain the current boundary configurations as they are, unless changes required for neighbouring constituencies dictate otherwise. The population associated with the area covered by these two constituencies would be too large for these to be amalgamated into a 5-seater, however a territory transfer involving either north-western Roscommon or western Sligo (c. 10,000 population) being moved into Mayo could allow creation of a 5-seat constituency. Alternatively, the option of a 3-seat Roscommon-East Mayo and 4-seat Leitrim-Sligo constituency could be feasible with further territory transfers from the neighbouring (and currently over-represented) Mayo, Donegal South-West and Cavan-Monaghan constituencies.
In relation to the Tipperary constituencies, the population of Tipperary South is too small for it to remain as a 3-seater with its current electoral boundaries (population per TD ratio 7.3% lower than the state average), but the population per TD ratio for Tipperary North lies relatively close to the state average (1.2% below this). The creation of a 5-seater Tipperary county constituency is not feasible in a 160-seat scenario, as the population per TD ratio for such an entity would be 10.7% higher than the state average. A territory transfer (equivalent to a population of c.2,000-2.500) from Tipperary North to Tipperary South would appear the likely option here, with the possibility that the loss of territory by Tipperary North could well be offset by the gain of some further territory in south-west Offaly from the currently under-represented Laois-Offaly constituency.
Waterford – the population of the constituency area is sufficient for this to remain as a 4-seater without need to change its current boundaries (with a population per TD ratio that is 2.2% below the state average) and there would be scope to allow the constituency reclaim the part of the county that currently lies within the Tipperary South constituency (the population per TD ratio for a 4-seat Waterford county constituency would be just 0.8% lower than the state average), but this territory would appear to be needed to bolster the Tipperary South population to the level required for Tipperary South to remain as a three-seat constituency.
Wexford – with a population per TD ratio that is just 1.3% above the state average, Wexford 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 rather unlikely in this case.
Wicklow – with a population per TD ratio that is just 1.7% 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. One such change may well involve Carlow-Kilkenny, especially given that in a 160-seat constituency scenario Wicklow would not need 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 4.7% below the state average).
Finally, it must be noted that the potential changes to constitiuency boundaries outlined here are specific only to a 160-seat context – if the Constituency Commission decide to opt for a smaller number of seats then some of the options outlined here would not be feasible.