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High Court

Former minister says next Dáil may have to dissolve 'at earliest possible moment' over constituency changes

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald’s expected resignation may avert an imminent general election.

original Joe Costello pictured with Labour colleague Alan Kelly in 2016 Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

FORMER LABOUR MINISTER Joe Costello has said the next Dáil may have to dissolve itself “at the earliest possible moment” and hold another general election in order to enact legislation about constituency changes.

Costello, a former TD for Dublin Central, has taken High Court proceedings claiming that if a new Dáil is formed before the changes are made it would be unconstitutional.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly, President of the High Court, today order that defence submissions in the case be entered by 4pm on Friday, ahead of another mention at 11am next Tuesday when a hearing date is due to be set.

Costello said this shows Judge Kelly feels the case needs to move forward as “a matter of urgency”.

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Speaking to reporters outside court, Costello said: “Even if an election does go ahead, there is the issue hanging over the new Dáil as to whether or not it is constitutionally in place and the question of whether or not the actual population levels and the number of TDs and the number of constituencies and their demarcation, whether all of that has been properly dealt with.

So the end result of all of that is that the new Dáil would have to deal with the question of a constitutional challenge and a constitutional challenge could easily be taken.

“Really the only way forward would be for a new Dáil in those circumstances to actually dissolve itself at the earliest possible moment and have a further election in line with the proposed amending legislation which it hasn’t passed and has been sitting on for six months now.”

Growing population 

Costello’s action centres on Article 16.2.2 of the Constitution which states that the total number of TDs should not be set at less than one for each 30,000 people, or more than one for each 20,000 constituents.

A population increase of some 170,000 people was highlighted in the 2016 Census, meaning the number of TDs should be increased from 158 to 159. In June, a Constituency Commission Report recommended the number of TDs be set at 160.

In court today, Conor Power SC, who is acting on behalf of Costello, said Article 16.2.4 sets out that the changes to constituencies can’t come into effect until after the next general election. Therefore, in order to be in place before for the next Dáil begins, legislation has to be passed during the lifetime of the current government.

Frank Callanan SC, who is representing the State, said the relevant Bill was introduced in the Dáil on 22 November and is currently before the Oireachtas. Callanan said the proposed amendments would impact 21 constituencies and see about 112,000 people moving constituencies, noting that local authorities would need time to make the necessary changes.

Judge Kelly noted that if the legislation is passed before the hearing, likely to be in December or January, the case “falls away”.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald’s expected resignation today over her handling of the Maurice McCabe email scandal, may avert the prospect of an imminent general election. When asked his thoughts on Fitzgerald’s position, Costello said he didn’t want to comment on that and was instead focusing on the court case.

Read: Former minister says having general election before constituency changes are made would be ‘unconstitutional’

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