The final/definitive population by area Census 2016 figures were published earlier today (at 11 am), showing a population level within the state of 4,761,865, marking a notable increase (of 173,613 – 3.8%) on the 4,588,252 population level recorded for the 2011 Census. (The provisional figures published back in July 2016 only under-estimated this national population figure by 3,889 people – only out by 0.08%.) This now leaves an average population of 30,138.4 per Dail Deputy across the State (for the current 158-Dail seat context). 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 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 back in July 2016.
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 terms of reference set in the Ministerial Order means that the current Constituebcy 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 29,948.8 across the state, based on the official/definitive Census 2016 population figures. In the 160 seat-scenario, there would be an average population per TD ratio of 29,761.7 across the state, based on the official/definitive 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
- 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 of the Dublin North City or Fingal County 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 could be required in order to facilitate the allocation of this extra Dail seat to one of these Leinster constituencies, depending on what choices are made here. The addition of an extra seat, by contrast, could also lead potentially to the “political reunification” of Kildare, as well as Carlow.
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/Fingal County 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 9.88 TDs in a 159-seat scenario and 9.95 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, at the same time). The only drawback here, however, is that such a constituency reconfiguration could involve the political division of Swords between Dublin Fingal and Dublin West, mirroring the scenario that emerged in the 2007 Constituency Commission report.
Issues concerning the current under-representation of the Dublin Rathdown constituency in the 160-seat scenario (population per TD ratio of 5.8% above the national average) could be addressed by means of a territory transfer (of c.700 people) into that constituency from a neighbouring Dail constituency. This probably would be the Dun Laoghaire constituency, if the Commission wanted to retain the current situation in which the entire country of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown falls within the four-seat Dun Laoghaire and the three-seat Dublin Rathdown. The level of under-representation involved here is also not especially excessive and the Commission could also choose to maintain the status quo, if potential territory transfers from the Dun Laoghaire constituency prove to be problematic.
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 may have to take the under-representation of Cork South-West and Roscommon-Galway into account, although they could also choose to keep the current set of boundary arrangements. 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.
If the Constituency 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 2017 Constituency Commission report is published at some stage over the coming three months.
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, depending on what decisions are made here).
I’ll briefly discuss some of these issues here, when looking at what the new Census figures mean as relates to a range of different areas and/or constituencies. As the discussion will show, the use of a 160-Dail seat number by the Constituency Commission may well not require any further breaches of country boundaries and the new Dail constituency boundaries arising from this could well resolve existing breaches of country boundaries (depending on what decisions the Constituency Commission make) involving:
- Carlow and Wicklow
- Laois and Kildare
- Dublin City and Fingal County
The analysis here and the figures/statistics noted here will refer to a 160-Dail seat number context, unless otherwise stated. In the case of a 160-Dail seat context, the Constituency Commission will be required to review the boundaries of Dail constituencies with population per TD ratios of less than 28,274: 1 or population per TD ratios of greater than 31,249: 1. (Please note: The stipulation that there be no more than 30,000 people per Dail deputy only applies to the national average representation level and does not apply to individual constituencies.)
- 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 (5.14% below the national average) and – in the expectation of future population growth in this wonderful 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 6.55% below the national average.) The extent of such a level of 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. 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 provide a means of accommodating this, without the need to countenance any further breaches of county boundaries in Leinster. (It would of course also resolve the current breach of county boundaries involving Laois and Kildare.)
- 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 8.9% 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 13.4% below the national average) and too large to allow it be a stand-alone four-seat constituency (population per TD ratio 8.3% 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, 9.2% 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 (population per TD ratio of, on average, 6.4% below the national average). 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). If Meath was treated on a stand-alone basis, a case could be made for dividing Meath into a new three-seat and four-seat constituency arrangement, but the issues involving the neighbouring Louth and Longford-Westmeath constituencies will probably require the current boundary arrangement, or a version of this, to remain for this set of boundary revisions.
- Carlow, Kilkenny and Wicklow: The population of Wicklow County is now large enough to allow for the creation of a stand-alone Wicklow County five-seat constituency (population per TD ratio of 4.3% below the national average – in a 160-seat scenario), without requiring the addition of the part of north-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 12.7% below the national average). In a similar vein, the Tipperary population is just about too large to allow for a stand-alone five-seat Tipperary County constituency (population per TD ratio of 7.2% above the national average), but not large enough to allow for the (re)creation of two three-seat constituencies within Tipperary (population per TD ratio of 10.6% below 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 wvery much edges towards the current status quo being maintained and boundary changes appear unlikely here in relation to Offaly and Tipperary.
- 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 9.3% above the national average) and just too small to allow these form a stand-alone four seat constituency (population per TD ratio of 18.0% 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 7.0% above the national average) and the combined population of the counties of Cavan and Monaghan are too small to allow these to once again form a stand-alone five seat constituency (population per TD ratio of 7.6% 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 27.7% 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) is sufficient to 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 3.7 % 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-South 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 between six and seven percent (i.e. there would be a population per TD ratio of 6.4% lower than the national average in the case of seven Dail seats being assigned to Mayo and Roscommon counties). 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.