Does size matter? Largest and smallest General Election 2016 constituencies (in terms of area)

Adrian Kavanagh, 20th January 2016

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The creation of new constituencies for the upcoming general election (published on June 21st 2012) has resulted in the creation of some very large constituencies (in terms of territory/geographical area). Not surprisingly, the very largest constituency areas tend to be associated with the constituencies in the more rural and western parts of the state. In many cases, larger constituency units have come about as a result of the amalgamation of two existing three-seat constituencies (as in the cases of Kerry North-West Limerick and Kerry South, Donegal North-East and Donegal South-West, Tipperary North and Tipperary South, and Dublin North-East and Dublin North-Central). These new, larger, constituencies pose major challenges to politicians/candidates in terms of their campaigning strategies, but also in terms of how they serve these very large areas should they prove to be successful come polling day. This analysis attempts to list the very largest and very smallest constituency units across the state for the upcoming general election contest. In order to do so, area statistics provided by the Central Statistics Office for the 3,000+ electoral divisions in the state were accessed and area figures/statistics for each of the different electoral divisions located within the different Dail/general election constituencies were aggregated together to calculate the area of these constituencies.

In cases where an electoral division fell within two different general election constituencies – and in the absence of further information – a rough estimate/judgement call had to be made as to which proportion of that electoral division’s territory/area was located within these different general election constituencies. Cases such as these are highlighted by a *, indicating cases where some degree of estimation had to be engaged in and where the area statistics being provided here are not 100% definitive. Most of these cases related to constituencies in the Dublin region, where the M50 has been used as a constituency boundary, in turn splitting a number of electoral divisions. The Phoenix Park electoral division is also split – in this case between the neighbouring Dublin West and Dublin South-Central constituencies.

The largest general election constituency is the Mayo constituency; the territory of which which covers an area of 5,234.2 km2. Remarkably, this constituency lost territory (to neighbouring Galway West) and a TD in the 2012 boundary amendments. The area covered by this constituency is larger than that covered by number of the smaller European states/principalities, including Luxembourg, Andorra, Malta, Monaco, Liechenstein and the Vatican City. Three other general election constituencies cover territories with areas of larger than four thousand square kilometres, as can be seen from the list below, with these being the Kerry, Donegal and Sligo-Leitrim. The area covered by each of these four largest local election constituencies is more than twice that of the area covered by the Dublin local election constituency. In all, twenty three constituencies cover territories with areas of greater than one thousand square kilometres, with most of these constituencies being grouped in the list below.

The twenty largest general election constituencies in the state, based on my analysis, are:

 Rank   Constituency Seats Area *(sq/km)
1 Mayo 4 5,234.2
2 Kerry County 5 4,734.7
3 Donegal 5 4,650.7
4 Sligo-Leitrim 4 4,340.6
5 Tipperary 5 3,710.3
6 Clare 4 3,426.6
7 Roscommon-Galway 3 3,345.8
8 Galway East 3 2,904.0
9 Carlow-Kilkenny 5 2,834.4
10 Galway West 5 2,802.8
11 Longford-Westmeath 4 2,608.5
12 Cork North-West 3 2,603.3
13 Offaly 3 2,583.7
14 Cavan-Monaghan 4 2,522.3
15 Cork South-West 3 2,396.0
16 Limerick County 3 2,370.6
17 Wexford 5 2,365.3
18 Wicklow 5 2,167.8
19 Waterford 4 1,858.7
20 Laois 3 1,830.9

In terms of the ratio between a constituency’s territory/area and the number of seats being assigned to it, Mayo emerges as having the highest level in the state with an average of 1,308.6 kmterritory per council seat in that four seat general election constituency. The three seat Roscommon-Galway, with an average of 1,115.3 kmterritory per Dail seat, and the four seat Sligo-Leitrim, with an average of 1,085.2 kmterritory per council seat, have the next highest levels.

The smallest general election constituency is Dublin Central, being only slightly smaller (in area terms) than the Dublin North-West, Dublin South-Central and Dublin Bay South general election constituencies (although the latter two are both four seat constituencies, whereas Dublin North-West (like Dublin Central) is a three seat constituency). Dublin City accounts for most of the smallest general election election constituencies, with a number of electoral areas within the Cork City, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and South Dublin County local authority areas also figuring in terms of the ten smallest constituencies. In all constituencies located within the Dublin region or focused largely on the Cork and Limerick Cities account for the thirteen smallest general election constituencies. Kildare North (followed by Louth and Kildare South) is the smallest constituency outside of Dublin and the cities of Cork/Limerick, while the Longford electoral area would be the smallest (in area terms) of the more rural electoral areas.

The Dublin Central constituency area could fit almost 400 times (378.2 times to be exact) into the area/territory covered by the Mayo constituency.

The twenty smallest general election constituencies (in territory terms), based on my analysis, are:

Rank Constituency Seats Area *(sq/km)
40 Dublin Central 3 13.8
39 Dublin North-West* 3 18.7
38 Dublin South-Central* 4 22.2
37 Dublin Bay South 4 22.9
36 Dublin Bay North* 5 47.5
35 Dun Laoghaire 4 55.2
34 Dublin Rathdown 3 71.8
33 Dublin West* 4 79.2
32 Dublin Mid West* 4 105.7
31 Dublin South-West* 5 115.1
30 Cork South-Central 4 196.4
29 Dublin Fingal* 5 368.7
28 Limerick City 4 405.2
27 Kildare North 4 605.4
26 Cork North-Central 4 651.1
25 Louth 5 911.3
24 Kildare South 3 977.4
23 Meath East 3 1,191.6
22 Meath West 3 1,371.2
21 Cork East 4 1,660.8

In terms of the ratio between a constituency’s territory/area and the number of Dail seats being assigned to it. Dublin Central emerges as having the lowest level in the state with an average of 4.6 km2 territory per council seat in that five-seat local election constituency. The four-seat Dublin South Central, with an average of 5.5 km2 territory per Dail seat, and the four-seat Dublin Bay South, with an average of 5.7 km2 territory per Dail seat, have the next lowest levels.


About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer at the Maynooth University Department of Geography. Email:
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