Census results create delicate and potentially controversial task for new Electoral Commission – The Irish Times
One of the most delicate tasks of the planned new Electoral Commission will be to reshuffle the Dáil of the Republic constituencies before the next general elections to take into account the increase in population registered in the census.
With over 5.1 million people living in the state, there will need to be at least 171 TDs in the next Dáil to comply with the constitutional requirement of having at least one MP for every 30,000 people.
Political parties are already combing through preliminary census results in an effort to get a glimpse of possible changes for the upcoming elections.
Redrawing constituency boundaries always has the potential to be very controversial.
A re-draw can make or break the electoral hopes of candidates who may suddenly find they will win some of the votes from a supportive community – or just as easily lose them.
Ahead of the last general election, Fine Gael’s Noel Rock said he had lost 20% of his voters “with the stroke of a pen” after the boundaries were redrawn. It then lost its seat in North West Dublin in 2020.
Attempts to keep constituencies at around 30,000 people per TD can also create strange geographic anomalies.
An example is the “Frankenstein” Sligo-Leitrim constituency which includes part of Donegal and Roscommon (and previously incorporated part of Cavan).
The Electoral Reform Bill, which has not yet been passed, sets the parameters for the new commission’s constituency reviews.
The next Dáil can have up to 179 TDs and each constituency can have three, four or five TDs.
Violation of county lines should be avoided “whenever possible”.
With final census results expected in April 2023, constituency reports from the Electoral Commission for the Dáil and the European Parliament are expected around July 2023. After that, it will be up to the Oireachtas to legislate to revise constituency boundaries.
Dr Adrian Kavanagh from the Department of Geography at Maynooth University believes a decision will be made to increase the number of Dáil from 160 to 176 or 178 as this would sustain the numbers for some time.
If they are increased by this level, an initial analysis he has carried out based on the preliminary census results shows that Dublin would probably get five more seats and Cork would get two.
Donegal, Wexford and Tipperary could get an extra seat each provided the legislation is changed to allow six-seat constituencies – or each of those counties could be split into two three-seat constituencies.
There would be one additional seat for Kildare, Meath and the Carlow-Kilkenny region.
Dr Kavanagh suggested that six-seat constituencies be allowed as this could help protect county boundaries during a reshuffle. He said ‘bad decisions’ had been made in previous boundary changes and sometimes the officials involved ‘got lost in the numbers game’.
The political parties are preparing for possible changes.
A political strategist said it would be ‘the bigger the next Dáil the more changes there will be in the borders’ and unless the Constitution changes there will ‘always be a problem with square pegs and round holes”.
Another political source said Leinster House was ‘already plagued by speculation about what is to come’.
As for how this will affect the fortunes of the various political parties, it is impossible to say at this stage.
The source said: “Until you know where the lines are drawn and look at previous election tallies, it’s very difficult to predict what the net impact of any changes will be.”