Census 2016 Preliminary Population Figures – What these mean for 2016/17 Constituency Commission review

Adrian Kavanagh, 14th July 2016

The preliminary population by area Census 2016 figures were published earlier today (at 11 am), showing a population level within the state of 4,757,976, marking a notable increase (of 169,724) on the 4,588,252 population level recorded for the 2011 Census. Given that the Constitution explicitly states that the population per TD ratio nationally (this does not apply to individual constituencies) must not exceed 30,000 (or indeed fall below 20,000), this means that the smallest number of Dail deputies, which can be envisaged in the upcoming Constituency Commission review of Dail constituency boundaries, is 159, which is a higher number that the current membership (158 TDs of Dail Eireann). As a result, the extent of the boundary changes that will be required is probably more extensive than would have been envisaged prior to the publication of the preliminary population figures on this day.

This post will review the different scenarios that may emerge, depending on the new number of Dail seats that the Constituency Commission decides upon.

Update: The Ministerial Order of 14th July establishing a new Constituency Commission (as noted in Comments section below) effectively limits the range of seat number options left open to the new Constituency Commission to either 159 seats or 160 seats:

“the total number of members of the Dáil, subject to Article 16. 2. 2 of the Constitution, shall be not less than 153 and not more than 160”

Hence, while this post discusses a range of other seat number options, the discussion of 162, 164 and 166 seat number options here effectively amounts to am academic exercise in the light of the terms of reference set for the new Commission. 

This post also now includes an updated discussion of cases where the new Constituency Commission may have the ability to address existing breaches of county boundaries, without significantly compromising the proportionality principle – i.e. the average population per TD ratio in individual Dail constituencies should be within a 5% range above, or below, the national average.

159 Seats/160 Seats: The terms of reference set in the Ministerial Order means that the Commission effectively can only contemplate a minimal level of change as regards overall Dail seat numbers, which would leave the overall number at the smallest number possible (159), based on the stipulations of the Constitution, or the next higher number (160) if the Commission wanted to have an even number of seats. In the 159 seat-scenario, there would be an average population per TD ratio of 29,924 across the state, based on the provisional Census 2016 population figures. In the 160 seat-scenario, there would be an average population per TD ratio of 29,737 across the state, based on the provisional Census 2016 population figures. In both of (or some of) these scenarios, the following constituencies would be under-represented (i.e. the population per TD ratios for these constituencies would be more than 5% higher than the national average and hence would warrant attention from the Constituency Commission):

  • Dublin North-West
  • Dublin Central
  • Dublin Rathdown (160-seat scenario only)

In the 159-seat and 160-seat scenarios, the following constituencies would be over-represented (i.e. the population per TD ratios for these constituencies would be more than 5% lower than the national average and hence warrant attention from the Constituency Commission):

  • Limerick County
  • Clare
  • Roscommon-Galway (159-seat scenario only)
  • Cork South-West (159-seat scenario only)

Due to the Ministerial Order, we are effectively looking at a scenario where only a small number of changes might be required to be made by the new Constituency Commission. For instance, in the 159-seat scenario it would appear to be the case that the extra (159th) seat would probably be awarded to one the Dublin North City constituencies (i.e. Dublin Bay North, Dublin Fingal, Dublin West, Dublin Central and Dublin North-West), with territory transfers between these constituencies to balance out the impact of this extra seat. The most likely recipient of a second extra seat in a 160-seat scenario would probably be one of the (Rest of) Leinster constituencies, although a not-insignificant number of breaches of county boundaries would be required in order to facilitate the allocation of this extra Dail seat to one of these Leinster constituencies. The allocation of an extra seat to the Dublin North City constituencies would address the under-representation of the Dublin North-West and Dublin Central constituencies, while also requiring some territory transfers to be made between the two constituencies and the other North City constituencies (Dublin Fingal, Dublin Bay North and Dublin West) to further balance population levels/the population per TD ratios for all of these constituencies. The Commission could opt to take a more radical approach here. Due to the large level of population increases across Fingal County between 2011 and 2016, the population of Fingal County would now be equivalent to 9.9 TDs in a 159-seat scenario and 10.0 TDs in a 160-seat scenario. This could allow current breaches of the county boundary between Fingal and Dublin City to be addressed, by means of the creation of two five-seat constituencies comprised solely of areas located within Fingal (i.e. Howth would move into Dublin Fingal, the Ashtown/Phoenix Park area would move back into Dublin Central). This would effectively require the allocation of the extra seat to be made to Dublin West, with transfers of territory into this constituency from Dublin Fingal (which would be gaining territory – Howth and surrounding areas – from Dublin Bay North).

Issues to do with the two-four constituencies whose population per TD ratios fall well below the national average could effectively be resolved by means of territory transfers involving other neighbouring constituencies. The over-representation of the Limerick County and Clare constituencies, for instance, could be addressed by means of territory transfers into both constituencies from the neighbouring Limerick City constituency. If the Commission opt for a 160-seat scenario, then the under-representation of Cork South-West and Roscommon-Galway does not need to be addressed. If they opt for a 159-seat number, then the new Commission will have to take the under-representation of Cork South-West and Roscommon-Galway into account. These issues could be addressed by territory transfers (involving relatively small population levels of c.500-600 people) into these two constituencies from neighbouring constituencies.

Thus, if the Commission gives more emphasis to proportionality concerns and continuity concerns in its deliberations, a scenario where very few boundary changes actually ensue could very well emerge when the new Constituency Commission report is published in the Spring/Summer of 2017. But – as hinted in the earlier discussion of Fingal County – the Commission may well opt to make further, more radical, changes in order to address ongoing concerns in terms of county boundary breaches. (On a more positive note, the number of further county boundary breaches would appear to be very much limited in a 159-Dail seat context, but the decision to opt for a 160-seat number could provoke further county boundary breaches in the Leinster region. I’ll briefly discuss some of these issues here – just to note that most of the figures/statistics noted here will refer to a 160-Dail seat number context, unless otherwise stated:

  • Laois and Kildare: In 2012, the Commission opted to add territory from Kildare South into Laois (the Monasterevin/Kildangan areas) to provide a sufficient level of population to allow for the creation of a new three-seat Laois constituency. Continuing levels of population growth across Laois and Kildare have changed the context somewhat. In a 160-seat context, the population of Laois County would be only slightly outside the 5% variance range in terms of its population per TD ratio (5.02% below the national average) and – in the expectation of future population growth in this county – the Commission could opt to allow for this level of variance. However, the population of Kildare County is too small to allow for the creation of two four-seat constituencies, comprising solely of areas located within that county. (The allocation of eight seats to the Kildare constituencies would result in an average variance level of 6.6% below the national average.) The extent of such variance is not overtly excessive, however, and more extreme levels of variance have been permitted by previous Commissions. (The maximum level of variance involved the Mayo East constituency in the 1983 revisions, when the population per TD ratio stood at 7.89% below the national average – and this precedent has been established as the absolute maximum level of variance than a Commission can countenance in order to preserve county boundaries.) As a 160-Dail seat number would require one Leinster constituency to be allocated an extra seat, the allocation of a fourth seat to Kildare South could prove a means of accommodating this, without the need to countenance any further breaches of county boundaries in Leinster.
  • Louth, Meath, Westmeath and Longford: The combined population of Longford and Westmeath counties is too large to allow for the Delvin/Castlepollard area (currently within Meath West) to be included within the Longford-Westmeath constituency. A four-seat constituency involving both counties (in a 160-seat scenario) would result in a population per TD ratio that would be 8.6% above the national average. The population of Louth County is too small to allow it be a stand-alone five-seat constituency (population per TD ratio 13.7% below the national average) and too large to allow it be a stand-alone four-seat constituency (population per TD ratio 7.92% above the national average). The population of Meath County is also too large to allow for the two Meath three-seaters to created solely involving territory from that county (population per TD ratio of, on average, 9.3% above the national average), while it is too small to allow for that county to be divided between a three-seat and a four-seat constituency. If the Commission do not opt to award an extra seat to Kildare South (as discussed above), they could opt to award the second new seat (in a 160-Dail seat scenario) to one of the two Meath constituencies (or alternately award a fifth seat to Longford-Westmeath, with the provision of territory from western parts of Meath County, on top of the inclusion of the Delvin/Castlepollard area).
  • Carlow, Kilkenny and Wicklow: The population of Wicklow County is large enough to allow for the creation of a stand-alone Wicklow County five-seat constituency (population per TD ratio of 4.3% above the national average – in a 160-seat scenario), without requiring the addition of the part of eastern Carlow that is currently located within that constituency.  Furthermore, the combined population of the counties of Kilkenny and Carlow is now just about small enough to allow for the return of eastern Carlow to create a five-seat constituency comprised of the territories of both counties (population per TD ratio of 4.9% above the national average). There now seems to be no reason why the Commission might not address this (Wicklow-Carlow) county boundary breach.
  • Offaly and Tipperary: The Offaly population is not large enough to allow for a stand-alone three-seat Offaly County constituency (population per TD ratio of 12.6% above the national average). In a similar vein, the Tipperary population is too large enough to allow for a stand-alone five-seat Tipperary County constituency (population per TD ratio of 7.91% above the national average). With the population levels in the existing Offaly (and north Tipperary) and Tipperary constituencies being almost the ideal numbers for a three-seat and five-seat Dail constituency, respectively, the scenario here would appear to be one that very much edges towards the current status quo being maintained; boundary changes appear unlikely here.
  • Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim: The general sense here is that the Commission is waiting for population trends to, over time, solve the existing breaches of (the Donegal and Cavan) county boundaries, that were brought in by the 2012 Commission’s report. Effectively, my sense is that the Commission are waiting until the combined population of Sligo and Leitrim counties is small enough to allow these to form a stand-alone three-seat constituency (or, alternately, until the combined population of Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim counties is small enough to allow these to form a stand-alone five-seat constituency). At the moment, the combined population of these two counties is just too large to allow these form a stand-alone three seat constituency (population per TD ratio of 9.1% above the national average) and just too small to allow these form a stand-alone three seat constituency (population per TD ratio of 18.2% below the national average). The population of Donegal is too large to allow it form a stand-alone five-seat Donegal County constituency (population per TD ratio of 6.8% above the national average) and the combined population of the counties of Cavan and Monaghan is too small to allow these form a stand-alone five seat constituency (population per TD ratio of 7.61% below the national average). Greater levels of variance than those associated with the Donegal and Cavan-Monaghan cases have been allowed by previous Commissions. However, the problem here has to do mainly with population levels in Sligo and Leitrim, which may warrant the maintenance of the current situation in which parts of south Donegal and western Cavan need to be included as part of the four-seat Sligo-Leitrim constituency.
  • Mayo, Galway and Roscommon: Some of the most contentious decisions made by the Commission in 2012 involved county boundary breaches involving the transfer of part of south Mayo into Galway West and a large part of eastern Galway (including Ballinasloe) into the new Roscommon-Galway constituency. A stand-alone constituency comprising solely of Mayo County is not likely on present population levels. At the moment, the Mayo County population is just too large to allow it to form a stand-alone four seat constituency (population per TD ratio of 9.6% above the national average), but it is just too small to allow it to once again form a stand-alone five seat constituency (population per TD ratio of 12.3% below the national average). In a similar vein, the population of Roscommon County is just too small to allow it to  form a stand-alone three seat constituency (population per TD ratio of 27.8% below the national average) and a two-seat Roscommon constituency is not an option, based on the Constitutional provision stating that Dail constituencies must have at least three seats allocated to these. By contrast, the population of Galway (City and County) would allow for the return of the old five-seat Galway West/four-seat Galway East constituency arrangement: the allocation of nine seats to Galway would result in a population per TD ratio that – on average – is just 3.4 % below the national average. Can the level of county boundary breaches be limited here? Well one option would be to instead move a south-eastern chunk of Mayo County into Roscommon to create a four-seat Mayo constituency and three-seat Roscommon-Mayo constituency. However, the populations of the two counties may not be large enough to allow for such an arrangement, unless the Commission was willing to allow for variance levels of six or seven percent (i.e. population per TD ratios of c.6-7 lower than the national average). Past precedent, as discussed above, does not entirely rule out such a scenario. If this was to arise, the existing breaches of the Galway County boundary would effectively be resolved.

** The rest of this post discusses potential constituency boundary arrangements if the terms of reference set for the new Commission had allowed it the option to choose to allocate a larger number of Dail seats:

166 Seats: The Commission might have decided (if it had been given the power to do so) to have made a more significant increase in the number of Dail seat numbers, based on the expectation that future population increases in future census reports may otherwise require Dail seat numbers to be constantly changing with each new Constituency Commission report. One scenario, if the terms of reference in a new Electoral Act allow for this, might have seen the Commission revert back to the 166-seats level used at each general election contest between 1981 and 2011. In such a 166 seat-scenario, there would have been an average population per TD ratio of 28,663 across the state. In this scenario, the following constituencies would have been under-represented (i.e. the population per TD ratios for these constituencies would be more than 5% higher than the national average and hence warrant attention from the Constituency Commission):

  • Dublin North-West
  • Dublin Central
  • Dublin Rathdown
  • Galway East
  • Cork North-Central
  • Cavan-Monaghan
  • Galway West
  • Laois
  • Dun Laoghaire
  • Kildare South
  • Dublin West
  • Dublin Bay North
  • Kildare North
  • Cork South-Central
  • Meath East
  • Dublin Fingal
  • Cork East
  • Carlow-Kilkenny
  • Dublin Bay South
  • Dublin South-West
  • Longford-Westmeath
  • Meath West
  • Louth

In this scenario, none of the existing (40) constituencies would have been classified as being over-represented (i.e. the population per TD ratios for these constituencies would be more than 5% lower than the national average and hence warrant attention from the Constituency Commission).

Effectively this would have amounted to a scenario where the level of changes would have been quite dramatic and would be effectively in the same vein as the changes brought in by the 2012 Constituency Commission. Eight extra seats would have been allocated, with three of these awarded to the Dublin constituencies – one extra seat to Fingal, one extra seat to the North City area and one extra seat to South Dublin County (with Dublin Mid-West potentially gaining a seat). There would also have been extra seats shared out between the:

  • Laois, Kildare South and Kildare North constituencies (with the part of south Kildare, currently located within the Laois constituency, returning to Kildare South (which probably would gain a fourth seat)
  • Louth, Meath East and Meath West constituencies
  • The Cork constituencies – with Cork South-Central potentially regaining the seat lost in the 2012 revisions
  • Cavan-Monaghan – assuming that this constituency also regained the parts of West Cyavan lost to Sligo-Leitrim in the 2012 revisions
  • The constituencies in the South-East: Waterford, Tipperary and Carlow-Kilkenny.

162 Seats:  The Commission might have decided (if it had the power to do so) to have made a more significant increase in the number of Dail seat numbers, based on the expectation that future population increases in future census reports may otherwise require Dail seat numbers to be constantly changing with each new Constituency Commission report. But they might not have wanted to return seat numbers back to the 166-seats level used at each general election contest between 1981 and 2011. If they were to have opted for a “half-way house scenario”, i.e. a 162 seat-scenario, there would be an average population per TD ratio of 29,370 across the state. In such a scenario, the following constituencies would have been under-represented (i.e. the population per TD ratios for these constituencies would be more than 5% higher than the national average and hence warrant attention from the Constituency Commission):

  • Dublin North-West
  • Dublin Central
  • Dublin Rathdown
  • Galway East
  • Cork North-Central
  • Cavan-Monaghan
  • Galway West
  • Laois

In this scenario, Limerick County would have been the only one out of the existing (40) constituencies that would have been classified as being over-represented (i.e. the population per TD ratios for these constituencies would be more than 5% lower than the national average and hence warrant attention from the Constituency Commission).

Effectively this would have been a scenario where the level of changes would have been fairly dramatic, but not as dramatic as those changes brought in by the 2012 Constituency Commission. Four extra seats would have been allocated, with two of these awarded to the Dublin constituencies – one extra seat to Fingal and the Dublin North City area and one extra seat to South Dublin County/Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown area. The other two seats would probably have been awarded to Cork and to the Laois, Kildare South and Kildare North constituencies.

164 Seats: The last scenario to be looked at is one in which the Constituency Commission – if it had been given the power to do so – had decided to make a relatively significant increase in the number of Dail seat numbers, based on the expectation that population increases in future census reports might otherwise require Dail seat numbers to be constantly changing with each new Constituency Commission report. On that basis they might have opted for a more radical approach that that of simply increasing seat numbers to the 159/160 seat level or even to the 162 seat level, but might have opted not to fully revert back to the 166-seats level that was used at each general election contest between 1981 and 2011. In this scenario, namely that of a 164 seat-scenario, there would have been an average population per TD ratio of 29,012 across the state. In this scenario, the following constituencies would have been under-represented (i.e. the population per TD ratios for these constituencies would be more than 5% higher than the national average and hence warrant attention from the Constituency Commission):

  • Dublin North-West
  • Dublin Central
  • Dublin Rathdown
  • Galway East
  • Cork North-Central
  • Cavan-Monaghan
  • Galway West
  • Laois
  • Dun Laoghaire
  • Kildare South
  • Dublin West
  • Dublin Bay North
  • Kildare North
  • Cork South-Central

In this scenario, none of the existing (40) constituencies would have been classified as being over-represented (i.e. the population per TD ratios for these constituencies would be more than 5% lower than the national average and hence warrant attention from the Constituency Commission).

Effectively this would have amounted to a scenario where the level of changes would have been quite dramatic, albeit not to the same extent as the changes brought in by the 2012 Constituency Commission. Six extra seats would have had to be allocated, with at least two of these being awarded to the Dublin constituencies – one extra seat to Fingal and the Dublin North City area and one extra seat to South Dublin County/Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown area. There would also have been an extra seat shared out between the:

  • Carlow-Kilkenny, Laois, Kildare South and Kildare North constituencies (with the part of south Kildare, currently located within the Laois constituency, pontentially returning to Kildare South (which probably would gain a fourth seat, especially if it gained further territory from Carlow)
  • The Cork constituencies – with Cork South-Central potentially regaining the seat lost in the 2012 revisions
  • Cavan-Monaghan – assuming that this constituency also regained the parts of West Cyavan lost to Sligo-Leitrim in the 2012 revisions
  • The constituencies of Louth, Meath East, Meath West and Longford-Westmeath

 

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About Adrian Kavanagh

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

One Response to Census 2016 Preliminary Population Figures – What these mean for 2016/17 Constituency Commission review

  1. SE says:

    The ministerial order has limited the options to either 159 seats or 160 seats only. Perhaps you might provide a more detailed analysis of those two optons?
    http://www.environ.ie/local-government/voting/dail-elections/commission-review-dail-and-european-constituencies-1

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