My submission for the European Parliament constituency boundary review

Adrian Kavanagh, 1st August 2013

The process for reviewing Ireland’s European Parliament constituency boundaries has now commenced, following on the loss of one European Parliament seat by the State after Croatia joined the European Union some months ago. The Constituency Commission  is now seeking public submissions in relation to this and the closing date for doing so is quite close – 5pm on Friday 30th August 2013. Information on the process/call for submissions is now online at the Constituency Commission’s official page on the European Elections boundary review: all submissions, in any case, can be emailed to: europarlconstituencies@environ.ie

Notice in press calling for submissions to European Parliament constituency review

Notice in press calling for submissions to European Parliament constituency review

This is the submission I made to the Constituency Commission. This is probably more academic in scope as it does not argue for one particular option, but it just lists and discusses the different options that are open to the Commission.

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Submission to Constituency Commission re: European Parliament constituency boundary review (2013)

From: Dr. Adrian Kavanagh, Department of Geography, NUI Maynooth, Co. Kildare – adrian.p.kavanagh@nuim.ie

The current European Parliament constituency configuration is one of four three-seat constituencies. With the reduction in Ireland’s allocation to seats down to eleven seats, it will no longer be possible to have four constituencies, as one or two seat constituencies are not permitted. The option of having one, stand-alone, national 11-seat constituency or of dividing the state into two constituencies would not be options either (as 6+-seat constituencies are currently not permitted under current legislation).

Hence the basic option for the Constituency Commission is be to create three constituencies, with two options here: to have (i) one 5-seat constituency and two 3-seat constituencies or (ii) 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 increases from 382,254 to 417,114. This would actually conform nicely to the creation of three-seat constituencies based on 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%
“North, West and East” 5 2,069,095 413,819 -0.8%
“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. An option of uniting Leinster, Connacht and the Ulster counties into one 5-seat constituency would involve similar concerns.

If the 5-seat/two 3-seat constituency option was to be used, 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; namely 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-EastCoast 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-EastCoast* 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 second of the two options open to the Constituency Commission 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 3b). This would not produce as proportional a result as would be offered in terms of 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 that would be below the national average by greater than 10%). This concern could probably be rectified by a simple swap in which Laois would be moved into the four-seat South constituency with Clare then being joined in with the North-West and Midlands constituency in that county’s place (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.

Another option, of course, in using this model would be to retain Dublin as the three seat constituency and to divide the rest of the state into two four-seat constituencies – a North constituency, encompassing Connacht-Ulster and north Leinster, and a South constituency, encompassing Munster and south Leinster.

Seats Population Population per MEP Variance
Dublin 3 1,273,069 424,356 1.7%
Munster-Carlow-Kilkenny-Wexford-Wicklow 4 1,678,349 419,587 0.6%
Connacht-Ulster-Louth-Meath-Kildare-Midlands 4 1,637,104 409,276 -1.9%
Connacht-Donegal-Clare-Limerick-Kerry-Cork 4 1,677,493 419,373 0.5%
Leinster-Tipperary-Waterford-Cavan-Monaghan 4 1,637,960 409,490 -1.8%

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

As the first pair of options (second/third rows) in Table 3c shows, including Carlow, Kilkenny, Wicklow and Wexford in with Munster (a “South” constituency) and the rest of Leinster in with Connacht-Ulster (a “North” constituency) would produce a result that would score well in proportional terms. An alternative option would be to keep the boundaries of Leinster intact instead and to divide the rest of Ireland instead on an East-West basis, as noted in the final pair of options in Table 3c. In this case, Connacht would be joined by Donegal (but not Cavan and Monaghan) and the western Munster counties of Clare, Limerick, Kerry and Cork for a four-seat “West” constituency, while the other, four-seat East, constituency would comprise of Leinster, Cavan, Monaghan, Tipperary and Waterford.

The final option would be to have Munster as the stand-alone three-seat constituency, while splitting Leinster between a four-seat constituency involving Connacht and Ulster and a four-seat constituency which would also include Dublin. This would probably see the northern (Louth and Meath) and western (Longford, Westmeath, Laois and Offaly) counties joining with Connacht-Ulster and the south-eastern counties of Wicklow and Wexford being linked with Dublin.

Seats Population Population per MEP Variance
Munster 3 1,246,358 415,453 -0.4%
North West-Louth-Meath-West Leinster 4 1,576,823 394,206 -5.5%
Dublin-Kildare-Wicklow-Wexford 4 1,765,341 441,335 5.8%
North West-Louth-Meath-Kildare-Midlands 4 1,637,104 409,276 -1.9%
Dublin-Carlow-Kilkenny-Wicklow-Wexford 4 1,705,060 426,265 2.2%

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

The debate here would be over where to locate the counties of Kilkenny, Carlow and Kildare. The option (first set of options listed in Table 3d above) that might make more “geographical sense” would be to locate Kilkenny and Carlow with the North and West constituency, while allying Kildare with the Greater Dublin constituency, but the more proportional option (final pair of constituencies listed in Table 3d) would see Carlow and Kilkenny joining with Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford, with Kildare being included within the North and West constituency. There could of course be variations of this theme, if there was less emphasis on provincial boundaries, with Clare possibly joining with the constituency involving Connacht and Ulster with Kilkenny being then included within the three-seat Munster constituency.

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 to also consider 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, especially if the option of having one single constituency for the entire State was to be pursued at a later date. Another option that might be considered for future such reviews would be to have a range of boundary amendment options already drawn up ahead of the public submission stage, so as to clarify the range of options that might be open to the public and so as to facilitate the process and make it more effective. Such considerations are of course (unfortunately) outside the scope permitted by the terms of reference for the present Constituency Commission.

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About Adrian Kavanagh

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

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