Ireland's New Constituencies
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Fourteen new TDs, four new constituencies and political careers are on the line as the Electoral Commission announced its boundary shake-up ahead of the next General Election. Revealing the much anticipated report on Wednesday, the commission has also made a series of changes to boundaries and increased the number of constituencies from 39 to 43. While the number of TDs for the next Dáil will be increased by 14 from 160 to 174.
The review takes account of an 8% growth in the population since 2016 and under the Constitution, Ireland should have one TD per 20,000-30,000 people.
The review has led to the number of three seat constituencies increasing to 13 instead of 9, the number of 4 seat constituencies would be 15 instead of 17 and the number of 5 seat constituencies would be 15 instead of 13.
Seven constituencies will remain unchanged entirely since the last review including Cork South-West, Clare, Donegal, Dublin Central, Kerry, Limerick County and Waterford.
The main changes are: Dublin gains four extra seats Cork gains two extra seats; one in Cork North-Central and one in Cork South-Central. Three constituencies to be split in half: Tipperary, Dublin Fingal and Laois-Offaly, each creating two three-seaters. There are also additional new seats added to Mayo, Galway East, Kildare North, Longford-Westmeath and Meath East, and a new inter-county constituency of Wicklow-Wexford.
There have been a number of key changes in Cork which will have politicians pondering their future political careers. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Electoral Commission CEO Art O’Leary accepted Cork was a difficult county to redraw. “We suggest and strongly recommend that this is the best option for the county because it was something that gave us many sleepless nights,” Mr O’Leary said.
Both Cork North-Central and Cork South-Central have gained an extra seat and Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, Jerry Buttimer, plans to target the new fifth Dáil seat in Cork South Central constituency. There are ramifications particularly for Labour TD Sean Sherlock who’s voter base in Mallow has now been hived off into Cork North-Central. In a statement to the Irish Examiner, Mr Sherlock indicated he is considering a constituency change saying “Mallow is my home town so one way or another Mallow is where I’m staying.” He said he is assessing what is a “seismic shift” in the political landscape for him adding it was too early to say much more and he needed time to analyse the review. Mr Sherlock has held the seat for 16 years following the success of his father Joe Sherlock since the 1980s.
Mr O’Leary said the transfer of Ballincollig into Cork North-Central was not the biggest change, but the “biggest call” was moving 20,000 people from Bishopstown into Cork South-Central. “There are roughly 20,000 people in Bishopstown who will move from Cork North-Central back to where they feel they belong in Cork South-Central.” Commenting on Cork South Central’s return to a 5-seater after seven years, Enterprise Minister Simon Coveney said what has happened “is both necessary and appropriate in Cork”.
Mr O’Leary added the commission was “pleased” it did not have to make any changes to Cork South-West. In the next General Election, mooted to be next November, all eyes will be on Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns on whether she will be able to retain her seat as Fine Gael’s Tim Lombard will run again, the Kinsale-based senator looking to win back a seat the party had held since the constituency was established in 1961. The number of seats in Cork North-West remains at three but there’s an opening there with Fine Gael’s Michael Creed announcing he won’t run again but it’s not yet known who will run for the party or Sinn Fein. However, a Sinn Fein candidate may have an impact on the two Fianna Fáil TDs; Michael Moynihan and Aindrias Moynihan.
Tipperary has been split into North Tipperary and South Tipperary which will be welcome news for Fine Gael in the south of the county. Sinn Fein are also expected to run a second candidate given Martin Browne topped the poll.
In Dublin, there has been a number of constituencies hived off into different parts of the city and county due to the growth of the population, which was expected. One of the biggest changes in the capital is splitting Dublin Fingal into two new constituencies. Dublin Fingal East, Dublin Fingal West, both three-seaters. The extra four seats in the capital have gone to Dublin West, Dublin-Rathdown and the two Fingal constituencies. Minister of State Jennifer Carroll MacNeill has suffered a loss of her Fine Gael voters to Dublin-Rathdown with the transfer of Foxrock, Stillorgan and Carrickmines from Dún Laoghaire. Existing Fine Gael minister Neale Richmond and Josepha Madigan have already begun leaflet drops in the area to capitalise on the changes.
One of the decisions by the Electoral Commission that has attracted attention is the creation of a new inter-county constituency of Wicklow-Wexford to take in south Wicklow and north Wexford including Rathdrum, Avoca and Arklow in the north, Tinahely and Bunclody to the west, and Gorey, Ferns and Kilmuckridge to the south. North County Wicklow will remain a 4-seat constituency which will take in the main urban centres of Bray and Greystones to the North of the county, down as far as Rathnew. The areas to the south of Wicklow will join with North Wexford to form the new constituency of Wicklow-Wexford with three seats up for grabs. Currently not a single TD lives in the constituency but Fianna Fáil’s Malcolm Byrne represents the area in the Seanad. Five TDs in Wicklow; Fine Gael Simon Harris, Fianna Fáil Stephen Donnelly, Sinn Fein’s John Brady, Social-Democrats Jennifer Whitmore and The Green Party Steven Matthews are all located in the Bray and Greystones area. Mr Brady said the electoral commission review was “a hatchet job” on Wicklow while Minister Harris would leave people living in the county with mixed feelings, but that he was “happy enough” with the lines drawn on the map.
It was expected that both counties Kerry and Donegal would become two three-seaters in the redraw. Chair of the Electoral Commission Ms Justice Marie Baker said today: “If a six-seater would have been possible perhaps Donegal could have been a six-seater.” The commission defended its decision not to recommend the creation of more Dáil seats with accusations it had been “conservative” given it had the scope to increase the number of TDs to 181. Ms Baker insisted that officials could not have recommended a dramatically higher number of TDs at the next election because it is not clear where the increased population dynamics will reveal themselves. She said the electoral watchdog has been unable to “future-proof” against future population and it was not part of the commission’s terms of reference. The commission has also said it’s time to start the conversation around possibly needing Constitutional change to cap the number of TDs that can be elected to the Dáil. Several politicians have said they’d be in favour of this while Minister Harris said an informed debate is needed about whether the number of national legislators be entirely and exclusively linked to population.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission’s proposed boundary changes for Dáil constituencies published today may make it more difficult to achieve a better gender balance within the Dáil, Women For Election CEO, Brian Sheehan has said. Ireland currently ranks 101st in the world for women’s representation in parliament, with only 23% women TDs. A quota of 40% women candidates will apply at the next General Election. The commission increased the number of three seat constituencies to 13 instead of 9 which provide “mixed results in terms of women being elected.” Mr Sheehan noted that 3 seaters are not good for smaller parties generally and it’s smaller parties that have much better gender representation among candidates and elected TDs.