New European Parliament constituency boundary revision?

Adrian Kavanagh, 12th/13th March 2013

With Croatia about to become the newest member of the European Union in the coming months and with this state likely to be assigned 11/12 seats in the next European Parliament, theEuropean Union has voted to reapportion European Parliament seats between its different member states to take account of this and the Republic of Ireland is to lose one of its 12 seats in the European parliament. A new boundary review will need to be carried out to redraw the European election constituency boundaries in line with this ahead of next year’s European elections. But what shape might these new boundaries take?

First of all, it must be noted that the current constituency configuration is one of four three-seat constituencies. With eleven seats, it will no longer be possible to have four constituencies, but dividing the state into two constituencies would not be an option either (as 6-seat constituencies are currently not permitted) – the basic option for the new Commission would be to create three constituencies, with an option to have one 5-seat constituency and two 3-seat constituencies or to have two 4-seat constituencies and one 3-seat constituencies.

With the reduction of one seat, the average population per MEP in the state would increase from 382,254 to 417,114. This would actually conform nicely to the creation of three-seat constituencies based on the provincial/regional boundaries, but for the fact that Connacht-Ulster is too small to be a three-seat constituency on its own. Dublin, the Rest of Leinster and Muster all have very similar populations (all just over 1.2m) and all these populations would be almost ideal in terms of the level of population required for three-seat constituencies in a scenario where Ireland has just 11 MEPs (as illustrated in Table 1 below). The population of Connacht-Ulster would be equivalent to that required for two seats, but of course two-seat constituencies are not an option. The option here might be to unite Connacht-Ulster with either Munster or (Rest of) Leinster, which would provide an area with an almost ideal population to sustain a five-seat constituency.

Seats Population Population per MEP Variance
Dublin 3 1,273,069 424,356 1.7%
Leinster 3 1,231,745 410,582 -1.6%
Munster 3 1,246,358 415,453 -0.4%
Connacht-Ulster 2 837,350 418,675 0.4%
“South and West” 5 2,083,708 416,742 -0.1%

Table 1: Populations of provinces in Republic of Ireland as related to mean national population per MEP level if Ireland is allocated 11 European Parliament seats.  

The problem here would relate to the size of this constituency unit. For instance, a Munster-Connacht-Ulster constituency would be one in which distances of over 600km would be involved between places located on opposite ends of such a territory, e.g. between the tip of the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal and Schull in Co. Cork.

If the 5-seat/two 3-seat constituency option was to be kept, the Commission might prefer to have the five-seater in the area with the highest population density. In this case, the five-seat constituency could comprise of Dublin and other counties located along the East Coast and within the immediate Dublin commuting hinterland, including Louth, Meath, Kildare, Wicklow and Wexford. The other counties in Leinster could then be joined with Connacht-Ulster to form a three seater, while province of Munster would form the other three-seater (See Table 2a).

Seats Population Population per MEP Variance
Dublin-East Coast 5 2,072,373 414,475 -0.6%
Connacht-Ulster/West Leinster 3 1,269,791 423,264 1.5%
Munster 3 1,246,358 415,453 -0.4%

Table 2a: Populations of proposed constituency areas related to mean national population per MEP level if Ireland is allocated 11 European Parliament seats.

The Connacht-Ulster-West Leinster constituency would however have the same problems as the Connacht-Ulster-Munster, being too large a territory to be feasible, stretching almost from the north-western to the south-eastern corners of the island of Ireland. The option here instead might be to include Clare along with the Midland counties in the three-seat constituency including Connacht-Ulster (and indeed Clare is currently part of the three-seat North West constituency along with Longford and Westmeath). Kilkenny could then be added to the rest of Muster to form a new three-seat South constituency while Carlow could be joined with the Dublin-East Coast five-seater (see Table 2b).

Seats Population Population per MEP Variance
Dublin-East Coast* 5 2,126,985 425,397 2.0%
South 3 1,224,581 408,194 -2.1%
North West-Midlands 3 1,236,956 412,319 -1.1%

Table 2b: Populations of proposed constituency areas related to mean national population per MEP level if Ireland is allocated 11 European Parliament seats.

The last option would be to have two four-seat constituencies and one three-seat constituency, with the latter to include Connacht-Ulster. In this scenario, Dublin could form a four-seat constituency along with Meath and Kildare. Munster and the South Leinster counties (Wicklow, Wexford, Carlow, Kilkenny) could join to get to form the other four-seater, a “South” constituency. The other counties in Leinster – Louth, Longford, Westmeath, Laois and Offaly – could then join with Connacht-Ulster to form the other (three-seat) constituency (see Table 3a).

Seats Population Population per MEP Variance
Dublin-Kildare-Meath 4 1,667,516 416,879 -0.1%
Connacht-Ulster-Louth-Midlands 3 1,242,657 414,219 -0.7%
Munster-South Leinster 4 1,678,349 419,587 0.6%
Dublin-Meath-Kildare-Louth 4 1,790,413 447,603 7.3%
North West-Midlands 3 1,119,760 373,253 -10.5%

Table 3a: Populations of proposed constituency areas related to mean national population per MEP level if Ireland is allocated 11 European Parliament seats.

The Commission could also have the option of including Louth with Dublin, Meath and Kildare, instead of the North-West and Midlands constituency (as shown above in Table 4). This would not produce as proportional a result as the option of joining Louth with the North-West and Midlands however and the population for the resulting North West-Mildands three-seat constituency would be just outside the acceptable limits for such a constituency unit (with a population per MEP level of more than 10% below the national average). This concern could probably be rectified by a simple swap in which Laois would be moved into the four-seat South constituency with Clare to be joined with the North-West and Midlands constituency (see Table 3b).

Seats Population Population per MEP Variance
Dublin-Meath-Kildare-Louth 4 1,790,413 447,603 7.3%
South** 4 1,641,712 410,428 -1.6%
North West-Midlands-Clare 3 1,156,397 385,466 -7.6%

Table 3b: Populations of proposed constituency areas related to mean national population per MEP level if Ireland is allocated 11 European Parliament seats.

With further seat reductions possible if further member states join the European Union, there may be a need to consider whether the rules shaping the redrawing of European election boundaries needs to be revised (to possibly allow for larger constituencies – even a national constituency) or whether there may be scope for using an alternative set of electoral rules (e.g. a List system) in the specific case of European elections.

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About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer in Maynooth University Department of Geography.
This entry was posted in Constituency Commission, Election boundaries. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to New European Parliament constituency boundary revision?

  1. Joe Hickey says:

    How about 1 Constituency – Ireland?

  2. Current legislation only allows for 3-seat, 4-seat and 5-seat constituencies, so this would not be an option unless a new Electoral Act was brought in to allow for this.

  3. James Campbell says:

    Would a new Electoral Act mean a Referendum or simply an Act going through the Seanad, Adrian?

    • I’m not a legal expert James, but my understanding is that most changes to electoral legislation can be made through an amendment to the Electoral Acts, unless the proposed changes go against provisions that are spelt out in Article 16.2 of the Irish constitution. In terms of seat numbers, it is worth noting that there is no upper limit in the constitution as regards numbers of seats per constituency, but the constitution does outline a lower limit of three.
      If a new electoral system was to be brought in for Dail elections, this would need a referendum to be passed as Article 16.2.5 claims that members “shall be elected on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote”, but am not sure as to status in relation to local and European elections as does not seem (from my understanding) to be constitutional provisions relating to the rules for these contests.

  4. Terry Murphy says:

    Hi Adrian. You don’t seem to give any thought to leaving Dublin as a 3-seater, and dividing the rest of the country into two 4-seaters, or even a 5-seater in the Southern half, and the remaining 3-seater comprised of Connacht-Ulster, Louth, Meath, Longford and Westmeath

    • Indeed I haven’t (although I did note that a 3-seat Dublin was a viable option at the start of this post). Yes that would be another option Terry. Though I could see the Commission opting to locate the larger constituencies (i.e. those with 4-seats or 5-seats) in the parts of the State with the highest levels of population density. My assumption (which underpins my approach here) has been that the North and West regions will probably be in a 3-seat constituency, but then again you know what they say about the word “assume”…

      In any case, I’ve amended the post in order to outline what would be involved in a three-seat Dublin and two other four seaters option

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