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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Alamy Stock Photo An official putting a ballot into the slot for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after the 2020 Irish General Election count for the constituency of Dublin West.
electoral commission explainer

We're about to find out how many more TDs Ireland is getting - here's why

The review of Dáil and European Parliament constituency boundaries will be published on Wednesday.

NERVES WILL BE running high for Irish politicians next week as the highly anticipated Electoral Commission review which has the potential to shake-up the political arithmetic of the Dáil in the future is published. 

The review of Dáil and European Parliament constituency boundaries will be published on Wednesday.

While it has been a somewhat quiet summer on the political front – with crime in the capital largely taking up the headline space over the last two months – TDs and MEPs currently in office, as well as aspiring politicians, will very much be all ears on the media come 30 August.

That morning, the report will set out not only how many TDs the next Dáil will have, but from where they will be elected. And we’re more than likely see fewer constituencies match county boundaries. 

So, what’s it all about?

The Electoral Commission is independent of the Government and reports directly to the Oireachtas.

It finally got Cabinet approval and got up and running in 2022, many years after it was first mooted.

In 2006, the Commission on Electoral Voting recommended the establishment of a commission, with Enda Kenny’s government promising to introduce it.

In January 2016, a Joint Oireachtas committee also published a report into the setting up of an Electoral Commission. 

The work of the new commission will include existing statutory functions like the registration of political parties and will take over the work of the Referendum Commission. 

The Commission will also be responsible for regulation of online political advertising during elections, oversee the electoral register and promote public awareness of referendums.

However, its taking over of the Constituency Commission and the Local Electoral Area Boundary Committees which will garner attention next week. 

What’s the Constituency Review about?

After every Census there is a review of the composition and boundaries of the Dáil constituencies.

Our Constitution deems that there must be, on average, one TD to represent every 20,000 to 30,000 people in the country.

Our electoral laws also set out further criteria for Constituency Reviews, outlining that each constituency will be comprised of 3, 4 or 5 members and that in its review, the commission must consider significant geographic, population density and physical features of a constituency.

The Electoral Commission must also try and maintain as much continuity of electoral areas as possible. Despite these intentions, geographical changes are inevitable so there are fears among politicians that tinkering with constituency lines will result in the loss of votes. 

And in an election, every vote counts. 

How many TDs could we have in the Dáil after the next General Election?

As part of the boundary review, the Oireachtas directed that there should be between 171 and 181 TD’s following the next General Election.

The mood music across the political landscape is the final number will be at the top end of the scale, so most likely 180.

At the end of May, the CSO said Ireland’s population had increased by 8% to 5.15 million in Census 2022.

Under the Irish constitution, the number of members of Dáil Eireann cannot be fixed at “less than one member for each 30,000 of the population or at more than one member for each 20,000 of the population”.

The ratio between the number of elected members for each constituency and the population of each constituency should, where practicable, be the same throughout the country.

As there are currently 160 TDs in the Dáil representing 39 electoral constituencies, and based on the population-based calculation, Ireland falls far short of the number of TDs there should be.  

The Commission will also be making its recommendation in relation to the European Parliament. This will be based on the current number of MEP seats rather than the proposed, but still unconfirmed additional seat for Ireland.

What to look out for? 

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe has said there is “red-hot interest” across the political system for the upcoming completion of the electoral constituency review. 

In Dublin, it is suspected that the commission has drawn the boundary lines outward from the Liffey. Other areas under the spotlight are regions with the biggest population growth such as Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, as well as west Dublin and Fingal. 

Wexford, Carlow and Tipperary are also mooted to see changes. 

What is likely to rock the boat? 

Well, a great many things, to be honest.

There will be fears of hatchet jobs being done on some constituencies that will leave politicians being transplanted into other areas where they haven’t been putting in the ground work over the years. 

But one of the biggest issues is that a decision was previously made by Government to limit constituencies to three, four or five-seaters.

Parties of the left, including Sinn Fein, Labour and People Before Profit all advocated for bigger constituencies. They also made submissions for the reduction in the number of three-seaters, which they argued worked in favour of the larger parties.

However, six-seat constituencies have been ruled out. 

The commission therefore only has the choice of two three-seat constituencies or to create a five-seat constituency and move one TD over to its neighbouring constituency, which will give some politicians heart palpitations if there is a possibility of being parachuted into constituencies they are largely unknown in.  

Where will all the new politicians sit? 

The Dáil chamber can only fit so many TDs, so work will have to be undertaken to make room for newly elected politicians if the Dáil expands to over 180 TDs. 

The Office of Public Works (OPW) told The Journal that it is planning works to the main chamber to accommodate additional TD numbers and is examining the property within the complex to identify where potential extra numbers can be accommodated.  

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