Constituency boarder changes – A constitutional requirement leaves Irish people feeling alienated

Katie Drea

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HQ by Kieran Lyman (flickr)
HQ by Kieran Lyman (flickr)

Every twelve years or so, the boundary commissions are constitutionally mandated to ensure that constituencies reflect shifting populations. This means that a board called the boundary commissioners come together to redraw the boundaries of each electoral constituency.

The most recent mandate took place in 2013 but was not seen in effect until Ireland’s general election earlier this year. The Irish people failed to elect a majority government in this general election and this has left Ireland’s political landscape in limbo for the longest period since the formation of the Irish state.

Shopping trolleys of votes in Mayo during Feb General Election 2016 by Neil Dorgan (Flickr)
Shopping trolleys of votes in Mayo during Feb General Election 2016 by Neil Dorgan (Flickr)

This boundary redraw, although constitutional is mainly based on numbers, and how many people are being represented by a single elected seat in Dail Eireann. Although the boundary commission is there to make sure that the constituency boarders keep up with the ever growing and developing Irish population, it does not seem to take into account the fact that some of the new boarders may not even include the county name in the title.

Although councillors like Cllr. Jane Horgan Jones of the Clontarf constituency have recommended changes that do not just incorporate the growing numbers in the area, but also the social aspects of boundary redrawing.

(Above is Councillor Jane Horgan Jones, helping out in her community)

In Cllr. Horgan Jones recommendation she stated that people in the areas around St. Anne’s Park, Clontarf who do not fall under the constituency that she represents should be moved into her constituency. Cllr. Horgan Jones gives a few reasons for this, one included that particularly in an area like Clontarf the people have a huge sense of community. Moving the boundary to not include some people in this constituency she felt; left people under the impression that they did not belong to that community anymore. This was because they no longer had a say in who represented them on a council level.

Another reason for the boundary commission is to make sure that Dail seats are equally distributed on the basis of population.

Cllr. Horgan Jones made the argument in her recommendation stating that; although in 2008 some of the boundaries were moved around there was actually not real need for this as, “Despite these changes, the seat allocation for Clontarf remained at 5 councillors, although the population total was largely unchanged.”

Map of Ireland by Nicholas Raymond (Flickr)
Map of Ireland by Nicholas Raymond (Flickr)

The boundary commission look at the entire country at least every twelve years and make their recommendation to the minister of environment, community and local government, who will pass them through the houses of the Oireachtas and into law. The members of the Committee are: Mr. Gerry Kearney, former Secretary General of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, who is the Chairperson; Mr. Joe Beirne, former Director of Services, Mayo County Council; Professor Gary Murphy, Head of the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University; Mr. Peter McCann, former Principal Officer in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government; Ms. Marian Vickers, Chief Executive, Northside Partnership, Dublin. Although the boundary committee is made up of professionals from a wide verity of backgrounds and disciplines the ad hoc way in which they split up the consistencies has left a lot to be desired in terms of communities.

Speaking to locals who have been affected by the recent changes in constituencies one made the point that “A local councillor and a local TD should be a part of the community, they are a part of what makes up the community, someone that you can go to when you have a problem in the area. They are the Politicians that bridge the gap between the community and the government.” Local shopkeeper Pat said.

“I think that the changes in the consistency boarders just made people ever more confused as to who to vote for in the General election. On a local level people vote for who did the most for the community, when you get to the polling station and you don’t know any of the faces on the ballot sheet, it just makes you feel even more complacent about the Irish politics” – James, who was previously in the Dublin central constituency, and is now in Dublin North West.

This is a quick summary of how the constituencies around the country have been changed These are the boundaries which have featured in this years general election, which will reduce the number of seats in Dáil Éireann from 166 to 158.

Irish Political maps
Irish Political maps

 

In terms of actual boundaries, only 11 constituencies remains unchanged or largely unchanged: Carlow-Kilkenny, Clare, Cork East, Cork South West, Dublin Mid-West, Kildare North, Longford-Westmeath, Meath West, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow. Within some of these constituencies however there have been seat changes. The new seat allocations are described in the map.

As was widely expected, Kerry was united in a single constituency, while Limerick City was expanded to include the north east corner of County Limerick. Donegal was also unified, as was most of Tipperary, with the Nenagh area absorbed into the newly independent Offaly constituency, along with the areas of Offaly which had been taken into Tipperary North in the last revision. The splitting of Laois and Offaly marked the end of Ireland’s oldest constant constituency. Laois-Offaly had existed since the foundation of the Free State and was first used in the 1921 general election
Cavan-Monaghan seen the Belturbet panhandle go to an expanded Sligo-Leitrim, which also took a section of Donegal, while Roscommon took a section of Galway East to become Roscommon-Galway. Galway West gained a part of Mayo, while Meath East gains the southernmost part of the Louth constituency, largely Gormanstown which is a part of County Meath itself. Cork North Central shrinks closer to its original size as its western areas go to Cork North West, while Cork South Central gained a sliver more of Cork City than it previously had.

2012compare Irish political maps
2012compare Irish political maps

Within Dublin, all but one constituencies’ are altered. Dublin North is renamed Dublin Fingal and takes the northern half of Dublin West, which itself takes some of a greatly reduced Dublin Central. North Central and North East are combined into Dublin Bay North, while Dublin South East is renamed Dublin Bay South for reasons of symmetry. Slight alterations take place in the boundaries of the other constituencies, with Dublin South also being renamed to Dublin Rathdown.

 

During the general election this year there were some spoiled votes that were seen to reflect the complacency of the people who live in areas where the constituency boarders have changed so drastically that they now are voting for a different county


Although in 2014 Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin did accuse the then Fine Geal government of Gerrymandering, when changing the boarders of the constituencies. This accusation was brushed off by many who seen it a political tactics on his part as the boarder commission is a public body protected by the constitution.

It is felt that these changes do not fully understand the complexity of Irish communities, there have been some proposals for changes put forward by opposition party Sinn Fein.

A statement from the Sinn Fein spokes person explained; “Boundary commissions are constitutionally mandated at least every 12 years so as to ensure that constituencies reflect shifting populations. An independent body is set up to deal with this process. Sinn Féin have proposed that a standing body is set up to monitor this duty on an ongoing basis, rather than on an ad hoc basis.

“To say that these changes constitute gerrymandering would imply a political motivation in the redrawing of boundaries which we do not feel is present. However, the process can leave people feeling alienated if they are placed in a constituency that they do not associate with or, in some cases, may not even include their county name in the title.”

 Cliffs near Slieve League by Aldimedia (flickr)
Cliffs near Slieve League by Aldimedia (flickr)

It is true that something needs to be changed about how the boarder commission draws the boundaries of Irelands constituencies’. The commission is essential to make sure that constituencies are not under or over represented but there could be changes made to ensure that this does not mean people feel isolated in their communities by having to find a new councillor after forming a relationship with their current one.

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Katie Drea

  • Excellent

  • Therese dvinskis

    Another fantastic article