Adrian Kavanagh, 30th 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 yesterday. This post will consider what might happen our current constituency configurations if a 156 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. Indeed, if the rate of population growth between the recent census and the next one in 2016 proved to be identical to that between Census 2006 and Census 2011 this would result in a population level of 4,965,286. Such a population level would mean that the smallest number of Dail seats that the next Commission would be able to opt for would be 166, the level of seats at present in Dail Eireann.
The scenario of the Commission opting to go for a seat number towards the upper end of the range of options available to them has been considered in previous posts, so this post will instead consider what might happen if the Commission were to opt for a number towards the the lower end of this scale, in this case a 156 seats number.
As noted earlier, the key thing that the Commission will be watching for in this review are those 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 seat number (in the case of a 156-seat Dail, the state average would be 29,412 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 Commission were to opt for a 156-seat Dail?
Carlow-Kilkenny – The Carlow-Kilkenny population is fine for this constituency to remain as a 5-seater with its present constituency boundaries (population per TD ratio is just 1.0% lower than the state average) in a 156-seat context, 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 2.0% 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 the population levels in this constituency, as will be discussed below.
Cavan-Monaghan – The population per TD ratio for Cavan-Monaghan would be 9.1% lower than the state average and the Commission hence would not have the option to keep constituency boundaries as they are. If the Commission are looking for extra territory to bolster a new four-seat Leitrim and Sligo constituency they may well look for this in west Cavan, resulting in a smaller 4-seat Cavan-Monaghan constituency. To maintain 5 seats in Cavan-Monaghan the Commission would need to transfer territory equivalent to a population of over 6,000 (probably from Leitrim) but this would seem hard to justify.
Clare – The population per TD ratio for Clare as a 4-seat constituency in a 156-seat context falls just outside the 5% variance limits (5.4% below the state average) if the current boundaries (excluding the Ballyglass ED) are used, or just below the state average (0.4% below) if the Commission decides to base the constituency boundary on the county boundaries of Clare – either option would be acceptable. However, even with the return of the West Limerick area from Kerry North, the Clare territory in the Limerick City constituency would still be needed to maintain a 4-seat and 3-seat boundary configuration within Limerick, so the Commission would be likely to make no changes here.
With a population for Cork that is equivalent to 17.6 TDs based on the 2011 figures, one of the Cork constituencies will be losing a seat and Cork South Central and Cork North-Central would appear to be the most vulnerable constituencies.
Cork East – The population per TD average for Cork East is 2.8% below the state average with a 156-seat context and there would be no need to change the constituency boundaries on the basis of these population levels, meaning that Cork East will remain as a 4-seater with its present election boundaries unless boundaries changes dictated by more radical changes being made to all of the Cork constituency boundaries.
Cork North Central – Cork North-Central as a 4-seat constituency falls well below the 5% variance limit in terms of its population per TD ratio (which is 10.8% lower than the state average), but the constituency could maintain its four seats with territory transfers (equivalent to a population of c. 10,000) from neighbouring Cork North-West and/or Cork East and/or Cork South-Central. By contrast, a territory transfer (equivalent to a population of c. 12,000) out of the constituency and into one of its neighbouring constituencies would see Cork North-Central become a 3-seat constituency.
Cork North West – This 3-seat constituency falls outside the 5% variance limit in terms of its population per TD ratio (7.6% below the state average), but the Cork North-West constituency could maintain its three seats with relatively small territory transfers (equivalent to a population of c. 3,000) into the constituency from one, or more, of its neighbouring Cork constituencies.
Cork South Central – The constituency’s population per TD ratio falls outside the 5% variance limits (8.0% lower than the state average) and its population is hence too small for Cork South-Central to remain a 5-seat constituency with its current constituency boundaries, but the constituency is much too large at present to become a 4-seater. A territory transfer will be required, either involving the addition of territory into Cork South-Central from one or more of its neighbouring Cork constituencies, or else a territory transfer out of Cork South-Central into another constituency (resulting in the loss of a seat) – one scenario where this might pan out would be where the Commission decides to make changes to keep Cork North-Central as a 4-seat constituency and requires territory from Cork-South Central in order to do so.
Cork South West – As a 3-seat constituency within a 156-Dail seat context, Cork South-West falls outside the 5% variance limit in terms of its population per TD ratio (6.0% below the state average), but the constituency could maintain its three seats with minor territory transfers from one or more of its neighbouring Cork constituencies.
Commentary on Cork region – the census figures would suggest that Cork’s population would be equivalent to 17.6 TDs suggesting one of the constituencies (South Central or North Central) will 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 a 5-seat constituency and two 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 – The population of the Donegal 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 11.2% below the state average), while the North East population per TD ratio falls just outside 5% variance limit (6.1% below the state average) and so changes will be needed to be made to both constituencies. A simple territory transfer from North East to South West would not suffice to redress the population imbalance and territory would need to be transferred in from neighbouring Sligo-North Leitrim to maintain the current two three-seat constituency boundary arrangement in Donegal. Another option might be to create a 5-seat seat Donegal constituency, while transferring out an area in the south of the county equivalent to c. 6,000 population to bring the population per TD ratio within the 5% variance limits.
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 43.3 seats based on current population figures and a 156-seat configuration. This means that the Dublin constituencies between them are certain to lose three seats in these changes and may well lose four seats.
Dublin Central – With a population per TD ratio that is just 3.3% lower the state average, Dublin Central can stay as a 4-seater with its current election boundaries unless changes to neighbouring constituencies have a bearing here.
Dublin Mid West – With a population per TD ratio that is 6.1% below the state average (and hence falling outside the 5% variance limits), the Commission would have to deliberate over whether Dublin Mid-West could remain as a 4-seater with its current boundaries. Given the level of changes required for the neighbouring Dublin South-Central and Dublin South-West constituencies the likelihood here is that there will be changes made to the constituency’s boundaries, possibly involving the transfer in of a small parcel of territory to bring the constituency population per TD ratio back within the 5% variance limits. Alternately, if the Commission requires the transfer in of a significant level of population from Dublin Mid-West into Dublin South-West to help maintain its four seats, the constituency could well end up losing a seat and areas such as Newcastle, Saggart and Rathcoole.
Dublin North – With a population per TD ratio that is 2.8% lower than the state average, Dublin North can remain as a 4-seat constituency with its current boundaries unless changes to neighbouring constituencies have a bearing here, or unless the Commission make an especial effort to take cognisance of the Swords issue.
Dublin North Central, Dublin North-West and Dublin North-East – with the combined population of these three-seat constituencies equivalent to 8.0 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). 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) wereto be moved to Dublin North – possibly making this a 5-seat constituency)
Dublin South – With a population per TD ratio that is 4.4% lower than the state average, Dublin South can stay as a 5-seat constituency with its current constituency boundaries. But there is a strong likelihood that changes required for the neighbouring constituencies of Dublin South-East, Dublin South-Central, Dublin South-West and Dun Laoghaire could well have a bearing on Dublin South and result in changes to the constituency boundaries.
Dublin South Central – The combined populations of the Dublin South-Central and Dublin South-East constituencies are equivalent to 7.9 Dail seats based on the 2011 census figures and hence one of these constituencies must lose a seat. With a population per TD ratio that is 13.5% lower than the state average, the population of Dublin South-Central is too small for it to remain as a 5-seat constituency with its current boundaries and this constituency appears likely to lose a seat (possibly to bolster the population, and to retain four seats, in Dublin South-East) and territory (possibly losing the South West Inner City or the Terenure area to Dublin South-East), unless constituency receives a significant territory transfer (equivalent to a population of over 13,000) from a neighbouring 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 (11.7% below the state average) that is too small for this constituency to remain as a 4-seat constituency with its current boundaries, Dublin South East will require extra territory from a neighbouring constituency (equivalent to a population of c.9,000-10,000) to retain its four seats or alternately the Commission may decide that it will lose some of its current territory and become a three seat constituency. The most likely solutions will involve a territory transfer (South West Inner City or Terenure area) into Dublin South-East from Dublin South-Central or from Dublin South-East into Dublin South Central (the South East Inner City area), which would either leave two 4-seaters, or a 3-seater and a 5-seater, in the Dublin South City area.
Dublin South West – With a population per TD ratio that is 10.2% below the state average (and hence falling well outside the 5% variance limits), the Dublin South-West population is too small for it to remain as a 4-seat constituency with its current boundaries. The constituency needs a territory transfer of c. 6,000-7,000 to retain its four seats but – given that the neighbouring Dublin Mid-West and Dublin South-Central would also be significantly over-represented in a 156-Dail seat context and hence lacking surplus populations to transfer to Dublin South-West – the only likely source of this new territory would be Dublin South (unless Mid West or South Central were to lose a seat). A more radical approach might involve the transferring in to Dublin South-West of all the South Dublin County electoral divisions currently located within the Dublin South-Central and Dublin South constituencies (equivalent to the Rathfarnham electoral area), which – with a further minor territory transfer involving the western part of Dublin South-West and Dublin Mid West – could allow for the creation of a 4-seat Dublin Mid-West and 5-seat Dublin South-West covering the entire territory of South Dublin county.
Dublin West -With a population per TD ratio that is just 0.4% below 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 that were calling for the political reunification of Swords. The most feasible option that would allow 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 as a four-seat constituency – 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-seat constituency (with the loss of population to Dublin North potentially being balanced out by moving the Howth, Portmarnock and Baldoyle areas 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 10.7% below the state average). This disparity could be solved by a territory transfer equivalent to a population of over 7,000 into the constituency from Dublin South East and/or Dublin South. Alternatively, a territory transfer, equivalent to a population of c.13,000, out of Dun Laoghaire would see this lose a seat to become a 3-seat constituency.
Commentary: Dublin region set to lose three (and possibly four) Dail seats, with these losses focused on inner suburbs (North City and South City areas) and the constituencies located to the south of the Liffey.
Galway East and Galway West – With the population per TD ratios at just 6.4% below the state average in Galway East and 4.4% below the state average in Galway West, minor changes will need to be made to the boundaries of Galway East to at least bring this constituency’s population per TD ratio closer to the 5% variance limit but this territory can be provided from neighbouring Galway West without the need to breach the Galway county boundaries. The combined population of these two constituencies is equivalent to 8.52 Dail seats with a 156-seat context and hence is still closer (albeit only slightly) to that required for having 9 Dail seats, as opposed to 8 seats, in the Galway area.
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 8.3% below the state average in Kerry North-West Limerick and 11.6% 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 1.1% lower than the state average.
The population of Kildare county is sufficient to retain a 4-seat Kildare North (population per TD ration 2.0% higher than the state average) and a 3-seat Kildare South (population per TD ration 2.3% higher than the state average) constituency and the boundaries of both constituencies can stay as they are (unless the Commission decides to reunite Naas with its rural hinterland). Had the decision not been made to reduce the number of Dail seats, Kildare would have been likely to have received an added Dail seat in this revision.
Laois-Offaly – The population per TD ratio for Laois-Offaly is 3.9% higher than the state average (and 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) and as this falls within the 5% variance limits in a 156-seat context the Commission would have the option to leave the Laois-Offaly constituency boundary as it is at present unless they feel that extra territory in south Offaly is required to balance the populations of the Tipperary constituencies. The return of the south Offaly area to the Laois-Offaly constituency may be possible with a 156-seat configuration as the population per TD ratio for a two-county Laois-Offaly constituency would be 6.9% above the state average – this level does fall outside the 5% variance limits but it is lower than maximum levels of variance permitted by past Commissions (7.89%).
The Limerick City constituency is too small to remain as a 4-seater (with a population per TD ratio 12.8% below the state average), while the population per TD ratio in the Limerick constituency also falls below the 5% variance limit (7.4% lower than the state average). Moving the western part of the county that is currently in the Kerry North-West Limerick constituency would ensure the two Limerick constituencies have a sufficient combined population to prevent the loss of a seat by these (though this would require that the Ballyglass area remained in the Limerick City constituency unless the Commission was prepared to accept an average variance level of -6.8% across the two constituencies). The Commission may well decide to offer swap one seat between these two constituencies in light of the impact of the return of the west Limerick area and if it is of a mind to make somewhat more radical changes.
Longford-Westmeath – the current population levels are fine for this to stay as a 4-seater (with a population per TD ratio 0.7% lower than the state average), and the return of the Castlepollard area to join with the rest of Westmeath county in this constituency might be feasible as this would leave the constituency with a population per TD ratio that would be 6.4% higher than the state average – a variance level that falls outside the 5% variance limit but which is smaller that the levels of variance that have accepted by the Commission for some constituencies in past boundary revisions.
Louth – Louth can remain as 5-seater with present boundaries as its population per TD ratio would be just 2.6% lower than the state average. Without the east Meath area, Louth could return to being a 4-seater Louth County constituency – the population per TD ratio would in this case be 4.5% higher than than the state average.
Mayo – The Mayo population is too small for this to remain a 5-seat constituency under its present boundaries (with a population per TD ratio 11.2% lower than the state average) but too large for it to be a 4-seat constituency with its present boundaries (with a population per TD ratio 11.0% higher than the state average). A territory transfer equivalent to a population of c. 10,000 people from a neighbouring constituency (from Roscommon or Sligo) could help maintain this as a 5-seater – alternately a territory transfer equivalent to a population of c.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 (with a population per TD ratio 4.3% 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 being entirely from the county area without need for added territory from other counties, such as Westmeath. Such a scenario would involve the part of east Meath (including Laytown) currently located in the Louth constituency being moved back into Meath East, with a further transfer of territory from Meath East to Meath West to balance these constituencies’ populations. But if the Castlepollard area cannot be returned to Longford-Westmeath and the Commission decides to keep Louth as a 5-seat constituency, then 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 very close to the state average (3.0% below the average in Meath West, 1.9% below the state average 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 ratios sit relative to the state average, with population per TD ratios of 8.2% lower than the state average in Roscommon-South Leitrim and 9.0% lower than the state average in Sligo-North Leitrim. The population associated with the area covered by these two constituencies would be too large for these to be amalgamated into a 5-seater (population per TD ratio 9.7% higher than the state average). However a territory transfer out of these constituency areas, involving either north-western Roscommon or western Sligo (and territories equivalent to c. 10,000-15,000 population), into Mayo could allow for the creation of a 5-seat constituency. Alternately, the option of a 3-seat Roscommon-East Mayo and a 4-seat Leitrim-Sligo constituency could be feasible with territory transfers in from the neighbouring 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 9.6% lower than the state average), but the population per TD ratio for Tipperary North lies relatively close to the state average (3.6% below this). The creation of a 5-seat Tipperary county constituency is not feasible in a 156-seat scenario, as the population per TD ratio for such an entity would be 8.0% higher than the state average. A territory transfer (equivalent to a population of c. 2.500) from Tipperary North to Tipperary South would bring the population per TD ratios of both constituencies to around 6%-6.5% below the state average – a level of variance that would be outside the 5% variance limit but would involve a degree of variance which has been accepted in some previous instances by past Commissions. Another possibility might be that this territory transfer would be larger in extent, with a loss of further territory by Tipperary North to Tipperary South being offset somewhat by this constituency gaining some more territory in south Offaly from the Laois-Offaly constituency.
Waterford – The population of the Waterford 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 4.6% lower than the state average). There would be scope to allow the constituency reclaim the part of the county that currently lies within the Tipperary South constituency (which would have a population per TD ratio – 3.3% lower – that would be even closer to the state average), but this territory would appear to be needed to bolster the Tipperary South population to the level required of a three-seat constituency.
Wexford – In a 156-Dail seat context the population per TD ratio in Wexford is just 1.2% lower than the state average and hence the constituency can remain 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 – The population per TD ratio for the Wicklow constituency (which includes part of east Carlow) is 4.1% lower than the state average and hence Wicklow can stay as a 5-seat constituency with its current boundaries unless changes to neighbouring constituencies have a bearing here. In a 156-seat scenario Wicklow would probably need the Hacketstown area to maintain a sufficient level of population for it to remain as a 5-seater, as the Wicklow county area as a 5-seat constituency would have a population per TD ratio 7.1% lower the state average, unless the Commission were willing to accept a level of variance that does fall outside the 5% limit but does not exceed the largest level of variance that has been accepted by past Commissions (7.89%).
Finally, the potential changes to constitiuency boundaries outlined here are specific to a 156-seat context – if the Commission opt for a smaller number of seats then some of the options outlined here would not be feasible. To see the range of options that would be possible in 154-seat, 158-seat or 160-seat contexts, please check my earlier posts on these scenarios.