In July 2016, immediately following after the publication of provisional population by area figures by the Central Statistics Office for the 2016 Census, a new Constituency Commission was set in place to begin the process of redrawing European and general election constituency boundaries in light of the changes in population between 2011 and 2016 as revealed in these figures. The previous (2012) Commission had reduced the number of TDs down from 166 to 158, but population increase across the state between 2011 and 2016 means that the smallest number of TDs that the Constitution (should be at least one TD for every 30,000 people) will allow is now 159. (The new Commission can choose to go for either 159 or 160 Dail seats.) As with the 2011-12 review, the process of reviewing Dail and European constituency boundaries commenced much earlier for this Commission than for those between 1980 and 2007. Between 1980 and 2007, the process started after the publication of the final, or definitive, population by area census figures by the CSO (usually published a year after a Census was held). Following the ruling on the McGrath/Murphy High Court case in 2007, the Commission must now commence the process of redrawing Dail and European election constituency boundaries after provisional census figures are published although they cannot publish the final report until after the final or definitive population by area census figures have been published. Given that there tends to be little difference between provisional and final census figures for large areas such as constituencies, very few final tweaks may be needed should a draft version of the final report be available ahead of the publication of the final census figures and the published report is likely to be available some weeks after these figures are released.
In total, 418 public submissions were made to the 2017 Constituency Commission before the closing date for submissions (10th January 2017). This is well down on the 533 submissions that were made to the 2012 Constituency Commission (21.6% reduction), but still compares highly favourably with the 335 submissions made in the case of the 2007 Constituency Commission and the 99 submissions made in the case of the 2004 Constituency Commission.
As only 19 submissions (4.5% of the total) were general in scope – relating to the entire state for the purposes or general elections and/or European elections or making a general point about boundaries/constituencies – this meant that most of the submissions were specifically focusing on concerns associated with a specific area, or constituency (as in the case of 316 submissions, or 75.4% of the total), or a small number of adjacent constituencies (as in the case of 80 submissions, or 19.1% of the total). Well over eighty percent of the submissions to the 2007 were concerned with the political division of Leitrim county. The main area/issue focused on in submissions to the 2011/12 Commission was Swords with at least 268 (50.3% of the total number of submissions) submissions relating to requests that the political division of the town, arising from changes made in the 2007 Commission’s report, be addressed. The area that received the next highest level of attention in 2012 was Leitrim (63 submissions, or 11.8% of the total number of submissions), although the level of submissions requesting that the county be politically reunified within the same Dail constituency was well down on the 2007 level, a response no doubt to a sense of the disgruntlement amongst Leitrim people that the level of submissions sent in 2007 did not bring about the desired change. (Ironically, the 2012 Commission did “reunite” north and south Leitrim.) Other areas/constituencies attracting a significant amount of submissions in 2012 – albeit not to the same level as for Leitrim and Swords – were Terenure (26 submissions, or 4.9% of the total number of submissions), the Cork constituencies (25 submissions, or 4.7%) and Laois-Offaly – the south Offaly area (20 submissions, or 3.8%).
As Figure 1 shows, the area/constituency receiving the highest level of attention in the public submissions to the 2017 Constituency Commission was Dublin Central (59 submissions, or 14.1% of the total number of submissions). Most of these submissions were concerned with the decision of the 2012 Commission to move the Ashtown area out of Dublin Central and into the Dublin West constituency. The area/constituency that received the next highest level of attention in 2017 was Mayo (51 submissions, or 12.2% of the total number of submissions), with most of the submissions being focused on the decision in 2012 to move south Mayo into the Galway West constituency in line with the decision to reduce Mayo’s seat numbers down from five to four. The area/constituency that received the next highest level of attention in 2017 was Dublin Fingal, or rather Swords specifically (45 submissions, or 10.8% of the total number of submissions). This area had generated the highest number of public submissions in 2012, in response to a decision made by the 2007 Commission to move the western part of Swords Town into Dublin West. The 2012 Commission revised this decision, but there is concern in Swords that the new (2017) Commission may yet again divide the town between the Dublin Fingal and Dublin West constituencies. Other areas/constituencies attracting a significant amount of submissions in 2012 – albeit not to the same level as for Leitrim and Swords – were Tipperary (32 submissions, or 7.6% of the total number of submissions), Carlow-Kilkenny (28 submissions, or 6.7%) and Cavan-Monaghan – the west Cavan area (27 submissions, or 6.4%).
27.0% of the submissions were made by identified politicians or political groups (96 of the submissions), involving either current TDs, Senators, MEPs or councillors, or former elected representatives/election candidates, or party branch members, or else made on behalf of individual political parties or branches of these. (This was a much higher level that the 18.0% level of submissions from political groups/politicians in 2012.) In all, individual submissions were made by 33 TDs, 6 senators and 37 councillors, as well as there being 37 submissions from political parties, or constituency/local branches of these.