Adrian Kavanagh, 8th July 2016
The publication of provisional Census 2016 figures on Thursday 14th July 2016 means that a process of revising and redrawing constituency boundaries for general and European elections will commence, after a new Constituency Commission is established. The process of revising constituency boundaries in the past did not commence until definitive Census population figures were published (usually around a year after the Census had taken place), but the 2009 Electoral Act – putting into effect a recommendation arising from the Murphy/McGrath High Court case in 2007 – allows the process to now commence after provisional figures are published. (These provisional figures are based on returns from the different census enumerators and are usually pretty close to the final/definitive figures when it comes to the larger geographical united such as counties or general election constituencies.)
This post will offer a quick overview of what will be involved in terms of the process of redrawing the election boundaries (which will not conclude until the publication of a new Constituency Commission report, probably around May/June of 2017).
As noted below, as well as making decisions on the new constituency configurations, the 2012 Constituency Commission also needed to make a decision on what number of seats would be in the next Dail, eventually opting for 158 seats from a 153-160 seat range of options set for it by the Electoral Act. Unless the population in the state is shown to exceed 4.74 million in the new Census figures (meaning that there must be more seats due to the one TD per 30,000 population provision set in the Constitution), the new (2016/17) Constituency Commission may not need to change the Dail seat numbers.
- Provisional or preliminary Census population (by area) figures are published – This will take place on April 14th 2016 for Census 2016
- Potentially following an amendment to the 1997 Electoral Act (as in the case of 2011 when the terms of reference were changed to reduce the seat numbers), a new Constituency Commission is established.
- The new Constituency Commission reviews any changes in the rules/terms of reference set for it (there were some notable changes in the case of the 2011/12 Commission), as well as the population trends emerging from the provisional Census figures. The Commission identifies constituencies that require attention.
- Public submission process commences – these submissions are published on the Commission website. The Commission takes note of these and sometimes these submissions may shape the Commission’s decisions (e.g. Terenure in 2012), but sometimes they do not (e.g. Leitrim in 2007).
- The Commission’s work (making decisions as to possible boundary changes) progresses. (The Constituency Commission also needed to decide on seat numbers for the 2012 revision due the change in the terms of reference set for that Commission.) The Commission cannot publish its report/final recommendations until the final/definitive Census figures are published.
- Final or definitive Census figures published – The Constituency Commission can now finalise/publish its report and by law it must do so within three months of the publication of these figures.
- The Constituency Commission report is published. (This occurred in June 2012 for the last set of constituency boundary revisions – roughly 14 months after Census 2011 took place).
- After a series of debates in the Oireachtas, a new Electoral Act is passed to put this report into law. After this point is reached, the boundaries outlined in the new Constituency Commission report will come into effect at the next general election (and European elections). If an election is called before this report is put into law, then that election will be fought out on the basis of the 2012 Constituency Commission boundaries (i.e. those used at the February 2016 election). It took until March 2013 for the 2013 Electoral Act, putting this report into law, to pass through the various Dail, Seanad and Committee stages (i.e. almost two years after Census 2011 was carried out).
More details on this process/topic are offered in: Kavanagh, Adrian (2014) “All changed, changed utterly? Irish general election boundary amendments and the 2012 Constituency Commission report”, Irish Political Studies 29 (2), 215-235.