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Explainer: How are Ireland's constituencies being redrawn?

The Constituency Commission is cutting the number of TDs and redrawing our electoral map. Here’s everything you need to know about what will happen…

TODAY IS THE final deadline for submissions to the Constituency Commission, the body tasked with redrawing Ireland’s electoral map.

Set up last year, the Commission has the power to change the boundaries of political constituencies, merge them into larger ones or divide them into smaller. It also decides the number of TDs that will be elected from each area.

There’s also an additional complication, which is that the Government has committed to reducing the number of TDs from its current level of 166.

So how’s it all going to work? spoke to political geographer Dr Adrian Kavanagh, of NUI Maynooth, for some answers.

So why is this happening?

The main reason for the Constituency Commission’s work is the imminent publication of the results of the 2011 census, which will show how the population has shifted in different areas.

“It’s to do with reflecting the changing population across the State,” Kavanagh says. “But there’s another extra factor, which is the decision to reduce the number of seats in the Dáil.” The next Dáil will consist of between 153 and 160 seats; it’s the Commission’s job to work out what the final number should be, and which areas should lose seats in the process.

How will the decisions be made?

It comes down to a number of factors. Firstly, the number of people living in each constituency. “The usual rule they stick by is that the population-per-TD has to be within five per cent of the State average,” Kavanagh says. Much higher or lower than that, and the Commission is forced to make changes.

Geography is also a factor, according to Kavanagh. “They try to avoid breaching county boundaries as far as possible.” Situations like the one in Leitrim – where half the county is electorally joined to Sligo, and the other half to Roscommon – are not regarded as ideal.

The Commission will also consider more than 300 submissions made to it by politicians, interest groups and local residents. More than half of these are concerned with the situation Swords in north Dublin, part of which was lumped into the Dublin West constituency last time around – to the disgruntlement of residents.

What is likely to happen?

Seats will be lost pretty much everywhere, Kavanagh says, naming Dublin, Munster and Connaught-Ulster as prime targets. “But the most dramatic change is that Kerry” – currently two three-seat constituencies – “looks very likely to be a single constituency next time around, a five-seater.”

There will also be changes in the political battleground of north Dublin city, currently divided into three areas. “I think this time round they’re going to bite the bullet and go from three constituencies down to two, so one will be amalgamated into the other two.”

Kavanagh believes that the Commission will steer clear of a dramatic cut to Dáil numbers. “I don’t think they’re going to go for the very lowest number of seats,” he says, citing the fact that future population increases could soon make such a cut redundant. “I suspect they’ll fall for the top of the range, 158 or 160.”

Kerry South TD Michael Healy-Rae could be among the losers after boundary changes, Dr Adrian Kavanagh believes (Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland)

How will it affect the next election?

Based on his observations, Kavanagh believes that constituency boundary changes – whatever their nature – tend to favour the party already gaining support.

“The luck tends to go against the party that’s losing out,” he says. “So if you’re losing seats, the boundary changes are likely to mean you lose even more seats.” This could mean bad news for Fine Gael and Labour if popular anger over the economy is taken out at the polls.

Big changes in Kerry, meanwhile, could prove troublesome for local Independents – including the Healy-Rae dynasty.

“A big constituency tends to work against Independents because their support is so locally based,” he says. “People like Tom Fleming and Michael Healy-Rae will be a bit nervous, because they’ll feel they may not be able to pick up the votes in North Kerry” than rivals whose support is founded more on party allegiance.

When will we know the results?

The Constituency Commission is not allowed to release its findings until after the official results of the 2011 census have been released. However, Kavanagh believes commission members – including representatives of the courts, the Dáil and the Seanad – will be in a position to make a final report within a few weeks of the figures’ emergence, meaning we will likely know our electoral future by around May or June.

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