Census 2011, general election constituencies and county boundaries

The focus of many submissions to Constituency Commissions has to do with concerns over existing, or potential, breaches of county boundaries in respect to the creation/changing of Dail constituency boundaries. This post here reviews the potential scenarios involving the different counties in relation to the potential redressing of existing county boundary breaches or the likelihood of new county boundary breaches in light of the population change figures published last June in the provisional Census 2011 figures and confirmed recently with the publication of the definitive census population figures. The reduction in Dail seat numbers will be as big an issue – if not even a bigger one – for the Commission to consider this time around and the post will consider this with specific focus on the impact of the Commission opting to choose larger or smaller seat number options from the range (153-160 Dail seats) open to them.

Following the publication of definitive Census population figures on 29th March 2012, a new Constituency Commission report, outlining recommendations for new boundaries for general and European election constituencies (to come into effect at the next European and general elections), is likely to be published in the coming weeks and must be published no later than three months after the publication of the Census figures. Prior Commissions would only be commencing their work at this stage (i.e. following the publication of definitive population by area census figures) but the decision of the High Court following the McGrath/Murphy case in 1997 has allowed for Commissions to commence their work once provisional population by area figures are published, as happened on 30th June 2011 in the case of Census 2011 figures. As it transpired, there were very little differences between provisional and definitive Census 2011 population figures for very large geographical areas such as general election constituencies, with the degree of difference between these for general election constituencies ranging from as little as 0.0007% (i.e. out by just 1) in the case of Laois-Offaly to a maximum of 0.68% in the case of Dublin Central. If most of the Commission’s work has already been completed and a draft report already prepared based around the provisional figures, any amendments to this based around the definitive population figures are unlikely to amount to much more than updating the constituency population figures as it is unlikely that the Commission would need to revise any constituency boundary recommendations they may have drawn up on the basis of the provisional Census figures.

The previous series of posts around this topic considered the implications of the 2011 Census figures, in addition to the decision to reduce Dail seat numbers by between six and thirteen, for the current Dail constituencies. This post aims to synthesise these posts with reference to what the implications might be in terms of the matching, or mismatching, of constituency and county boundaries arising from the population change levels associated with Census 2011 and the decision to reduce Dail seat numbers.

Population per TD ratios per area as compared with the state average for different seat number scenarios (153-160 seats)

The above table shows that breaches of county boundaries, including cases where such breaches have occurred in past Constituency Commission reviews, may be avoided in some cases and for certain seat number scenarios but may not be possible for other seat number options.

Carlow-Kilkenny and Wicklow: The 1995 Electoral (Amendment) Act decided that a number of electoral divisions in north-east Carlow (Clonmore, Hacketstown, Haroldstown, Kineagh, Rahill, Rathvilly, Ticknock, Williamstown) would be moved out of the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency into Wicklow to provide Wicklow with sufficient population to allow it to remain as a 5-seat constituency (previous Commissions had supplemented the Wicklow constituency population with population from areas in the south of Kildare). This area has remained part of the Wicklow constituency since 1995, sometimes due to the fact that the Wicklow county area had insufficient population in itself to stand alone as a 5-seat constituency and sometimes because the Commission believed the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency to be too large to allow for the return of this area. As the numbers above show, however, should the Commission opt for a 160-seat Dail then the numbers add up in terms of Wicklow County having sufficient population to stand on its own as a 5-seat constituency and the population of Carlow-Kilkenny not being too large to preclude the return of the Hacketstown-Rathvilly area into this constituency. Options ranging between 155 and 159 seats offers a situation where the population per TD ratio in Wicklow falls below the 5% lower than the state average limit but not as low as the 7.89% level, the maximum level of variance that past Commissions have allowed. So in this range, the Commission could decide to allow for a degree of variance that exceeds the 5% limit in order to redress the breach of county boundaries here, though it is worth noting that in the 2004 revisions the Commission decided not to allow the return of the Hacketstown-Rathvilly area to the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency on the basis that this would have resulted in this constituency having a population per TD ratio 7.1% higher than the state average – a degree of variance that was actually lower than the levels permitted for Cavan-Monaghan and Louth by the same Commission in order to prevent a breach of county boundaries in these cases. So if the Commission goes with a seat number option in the 155-159 seat range then this issue is in a sort of a twilight zone where the Commission may opt to redress the breach of county boundaries or maintain the status quo and the latter option might be the more likely one if the Commission opts for a number at the lower end of this particular range. If the Commission opts for the lower levels of seats (153 or 154) then the return of the north-east Carlow area is not feasible as Wicklow county will have insufficient population to stand on its own as a five seat constituency.

Wexford: This is probably the constituency that is least likely to experience a change in its electoral boundary, with the population per TD ratio within the 5% variance limits no matter what seat option the Commission decide to go with (it would have been slightly above these limits had the Commission been still dealing with a 166-Dail seat context).  

Laois-Offaly: Had the Commission not been tasked with reducing Dail seat numbers then it would have been very likely that this report would have spelled the death knell for this constituency, as Laois would have had sufficient population to form a 3-seat constituency in this scenario and Offaly would have been likely to also become a 3-seater albeit with the need for some additional territory from a neighbouring constituency. In the 2007 revisions the south-west Offaly was moved out of this constituency to address a very high population per Dail deputy ratio for Laois-Offaly, the first time the constituency boundaries had been changed since the early 1920s. If the Commission opts to go with a seat number towards the higher end of the range available to them then the return of this area to Laois-Offaly will not be feasible as the population per TD ratio in the constituency would exceed the maximum level of variance allowed by past Commissions. If the Commission opts for a seat number in the 154-157 seat range, then the population per TD ratio of a two county constituency would exceed the 5% variance limit but not the maximum level of variance permitted by the Commission and the Commission could allow for the return of this area, although past precedents suggest that continuity and proportionality factors tended to be awarded greater merit than county boundaries concerns by the Commission. The only option where the numbers safely add up to allow the re-creation of a two-county Laois-Offaly is the 153-seat option, at the lowest end of the range open to the Commission and a number they are unlikely to opt for.

Longford-Westmeath: Like star-crossed lovers these two counties have been at times joined together and at other times apart as Dail constituencies and the latest reincarnation of the Longford-Westmeath constituency in the 2004 revisions came about with the loss of the Castlepollard area to the new Meath West constituency in order to bulk up the Meath population numbers to bring these in line with the level required for six seats, or rather two three-seat constituencies. Meath no longer needs this additional population from north-east Westmeath but growing Longford-Westmeath population may well preclude the return of this area. If the Commission opts to go with a seat number towards the higher end of the range available to them (159-160) then the return of this area to Longford-Westmeath will not be feasible as the population per TD ratio in the constituency would exceed the maximum level of variance allowed by past Commissions. If the Commission opts for a seat number in the 154-158 seat range, then the population per TD ratio of a two county constituency would exceed the 5% variance limit but not the maximum level of variance permitted by the Commission and the Commission could allow for the return of this area, although past precedents suggest that continuity and proportionality factors tended to be awarded greater merit than county boundaries concerns by the Commission. The only option where the numbers safely add up to allow the return of the Castlepollard areas to Longford-Westmeath is the 153-seat option, at the lowest end of the range open to the Commission and a number they are unlikely to opt for.

Meath: While the Castlepollard area in north-east Westmeath was added to make up the numbers in three-seat Meath West in the 2004 revision, part of three-seat Meath East was added to Louth in the 2007 revisions to bring that constituency’s population in line with the level required for a five-seat constituency. If the Commission were considering the possibility of recreating the Meath West and Meath East constituencies to both cover the entirety of Meath county only they would find that population levels would allow for this with seat number options at the lower end of the range available to them (153-156 seats) while it would be a less likely, but not impossible, prospect for seat number scenarios involving the options at the upper end of the range open to the Commission (157-160): in these cases, population per TD ratio variance levels would exceed the 5% limit for one , or both, of the constituencies but would not exceed the maximum level of variance permitted by past boundary revisions (the 7.89% maximum). The population per TD ratios for both of the Meath constituencies at present are sufficient to allow these remain as three seater, without requiring boundary changes, no matter what seat number option the Commission decides to opt for and this may well tempt the Commission into retaining the status quo here, especially given the situation in the neighbouring Louth and Longford-Westmeath constituencies. That said, if the Commission were to opt for a seat number from the lower range of the options open to them (namely a range between 153 and 156 seats) then there would be a strong possibility of the Meath county area providing all the territory for the Meath West and Meath East constituencies.

Louth: Louth gained territory from eastern Meath in the 2007 revisions to bring the constituency population up to a sufficient level to allow it to gain an extra (fifth) seat. The population per TD ratio for the enlarged Louth constituency is sufficient to allow this remain as a five seater no matter what seat number option the Commission decides to opt for and this may well tempt them into retaining the status quo here, especially given the situation in the neighbouring Meath constituencies and Longford-Westmeath. If the Commission were to opt for a seat number from the lower range of the options open to them (namely a range between 153 and 156 seats) then there would be a strong possibility of a return to the situation prior to the 2007 revisions of a four seat constituency comprised in its entirety of the Louth county territory. This scenario would be a possibility with the other seat number options (157-160) if the Commission were prepared to accept variations ranging between 5.1% and 7,3% above the state average population per TD level; levels lower than that which the Commission was prepared to accept in the 2004 revisions to avoid breaching the Louth county boundaries.

Tipperary and Waterford: The population of Tipperary would have been sufficient to sustain two three-seat constituencies in and of itself had the Commission not been required to reduce seat numbers, but this is not an option given the terms of reference set for this Commission and territory from neighbouring constituencies such as Laois-Offaly and Waterford will be required to balance the populations of the three-seat Tipperary North and Tipperary South constituencies. The option of a five-seat Tipperary constituency being created is somewhat unlikely and would definitely not be an option if the Commission opted for a seat number from the upper end of the range open to them (156-160) but could be possible if they instead opted for a seat number from the lower end of the range (153-155 seats) if the Commission were prepared to accept variations ranging between 5.9% and 7,3% above the state average population per TD level. By contrast, a four seat constituency involving all the territory of Waterford county would be feasible for all the seat options open to the Commission (although the population per TD ratio (5.1% lower than the state average) falls slightly outside the 5% variance limit in the 153-seat scenario). The return to the Waterford constituency of the north-western part of the county that is currently located in Tipperary South is likely to be precluded however by the need to balance the population of that constituency to the level required of a three-seat constituency.

Kerry: The retention of the two three-seat Kerry constituency configuration, given the range of seat options open to the Commission, is only feasible if added territory from neighbouring constituencies such as Limerick or Cork South-West is brought in to balance the population. However the numbers add up for a five seat constituency comprised entirely of the Kerry county area and the population per TD ratio for such a constituency falls within the accepted limits of variance no matter what seat option the Commission decide to opt for and this would seem to be the likely result here.

Limerick and Clare: With Kerry likely to become a five seat constituency, this will allow for the return of the part of West Limerick that was joined with Kerry North in the 2007 revisions. This would mean that Limerick in itself would have sufficient population to sustain a three-seat and four-seat constituency if the Commission went with the 160-seat option, although the Commission would have to accept population per TD variations from the state average that would fall below the 5% level.

Cork: The Cork constituencies are likely to lose one seat between them (with either Cork North-Central or Cork South-Central appearing the most vulnerable to a seat loss) and possibly two seats if the Commission opts for a seat number option towards the lower end of the range open to them (153-154 seats). Breaches of the Cork county boundaries would appear to be unnecessary, unless the Commission decides to go with a Frankenstein-constituency approach and transplant parts of south-west Cork onto the Kerry South constituency in a vain effort to maintain two three-seat Kerry constituencies. If the Commission decides to go with a radical approach here (probably unlikely) the Cork City boundaries could be used to define a four-seat Cork City constituency (which, based on the population per TD ratio of such an area, would be a feasible option no matter what seat number option the Commission might decide to go with) and three constituencies (mix of four-seat and five-seat constituencies) in the Cork County area.

Galway: While the two Galway constituencies could lose one seat between them in the unlikely option that the Commission decides to go with a seat number option from the lower end of the range open to them (153-155 seats), a breach of the Galway county boundaries appears unlikely unless the Commission decide to attempt to redress the over-representation of the neighbouring Mayo constituency with a territory transfer between Mayo and Galway West or Galway East (although such a territory transfer would appear more likely to involve Sligo or Roscommon).

Mayo: No matter what seat number option the Commission runs with, the population of Mayo county is too small for it to remain as a five-seat constituency but too large for it to become a four-seat constituency without need for loss of territory. Thus, a breach of county boundaries would appear likely here – either in terms of a loss of Mayo territory to a neighbouring constituency in order to bring its population down to a level appropriate for a four-seat Dail constituency or in terms of the county-boundaries of a neighbouring county being breached in order to provide sufficient territory to bring Mayo’s population back up to the level required of a five-seat Dail constituency. The latter proposition would appear to be more justified in the case of the Commission opting for a seat number from the upper end of the range open to them, while the former proposition would appear more likely if the Commission opts for a smaller number of seats.

Leitrim, Sligo and Roscommon: The Commission is likely to make decisions relating to territory transfers to address the over-representation of the Mayo five-seater with respect to the neighbouring Sligo-North Leitrim and Roscommon-South Leitrim consituencies (although involving either of the Galway constituencies might also be an option if the Commission is dealing with a seat number option towards the very upper end of the range open to them). If the Commission is dealing with a 158-160 seat context and if it decides to redress the Mayo over-representation issue with respect to the Galway constituencies, then the current boundary arrangement relating to Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim may remain as it is – with the larger seat number options, the population per TD ratios of both constituencies exceed the 5% variance limits but do not exceed the maximum level of variance permitted in past boundary revisions. This would mean that Leitrim remains politically divided while the county boundaries of Sligo and Roscommon remain unbreached. If the Commission decides to run with a lower seat number option, then the range of options it needs to consider would increase significantly. In this scenario, the Commission may well decide it makes sense to unite Roscommon with the eastern part of Mayo to create a new Roscommon-East Mayo three-seat constituency, while Leitrim being politically reunited as part of a new four-seat Sligo-Leitrim constituency while also involving territory transfers in from south Donegal and west Cavan. On the other hand, Leitrim could, however, fall prey with different seat number scenarios to a further political division if the Commission decides that the territory in north Leitrim is required to sustain the two Donegal three-seat constituencies boundary arrangement.

Donegal: If the Commission is prepared to accept a degree of variance falling outside the 5% variance limits in order to avoid a breach of county boundaries, the present two Donegal three-seat constituencies boundary arrangement can be sustained if the Commission is dealing with a Dail-seat number option from the upper end of the range open to them (i.e. 159-160).  In this context the under-representation of Donegal South-West can be addressed with a territory transfer from Donegal North-East withouth the population per TD ratios of either constituency exceeding the maximum level of variance permitted by past commissions. If the Commission opts for a smaller number of seats, then the present two three-seat constituency boundary arrangement can only be sustained with a territory transfer in from neighbouring Sligo-North Leitrim. If smaller seat number options are preferred, then there is a stronger likelihood of the Commission instead opting to create a five-seat Donegal constituency. For all seat number options (with the exception, perhaps, of the lowest seat number (153) option open to the Commission), this can only be achieved if territory is transferred out of the county (southern Donegal) into a neighbouring constituency to bring the population down to a level appropriate for a five-seat constituency.

Cavan and Monaghan: In the past two Constituency Commission revisions, the population per TD ratio of this constituency fell outside the 5% variance limits, but the Commission opted not to change the boundaries as the degree of variance did not exceed the maximum permitted by past boundary revisions (although the Cavan-Monaghan population per TD ratio was very close to this level in the 2004 revisions). Ironically, this time around the constituency’s population per TD ratio would have fallen inside the 5% variance limits had the Commission still been dealing with the context of a 166-seat Dail. The reduction in seat numbers means however that the Cavan-Monaghan population per TD ratio falls outside the 5% variance limits for all seat number options. If the Commission is dealing with a larger seat number option (159-160) then it finds itself back in similar territory to the 2004 and 2007 revisions in which it has the option to preserve the status quo on the basis of the degree of variance associated with the Cavan-Monaghan population per TD ratio not exceeding the maximum level of variance permitted by past commissions. If the Commission opts for a smaller number of Dail seats, then this is not an option and it must decide on whether it will sustain the fifth seat in Cavan-Monaghan with a territory transfer in from any of its six neighbouring constituencies (Sligo-North Leitrim, Roscommon-South Leitrim, Longford-Westmeath, Meath East, Meath West or Louth) or else decide to reduce the constituency seat numbers by one and move territory out of the constituency to one, or more, of the aforementioned constituencies.

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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.

2 Responses to Census 2011, general election constituencies and county boundaries

  1. hugh says:

    re Donegal, did the Commission not already transfer some electoral areas from DNE into DSW in 2006?

    • Indeed Commission transferred area equivalent to 2,351 from Donegal North East to Donegal South West in the 2007 revisions – a similar type of transfer took place in the 2004 revisions but in this case the population involved in the territory transfer (involving the Lifford and Raphoe area) from Donegal North East to Donegal South West was even larger (5,386) – see the reports on the Constituency Commission website for even further detail.

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