Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Opinion: Making sense of a changed political landscape will test our politicians

John Paul Phelan
John Paul Phelan
John Downing

John Downing

When a Limerick city friend of mine was jilted by a rather good-looking young woman from nearby Co Clare there was, let's say, a limited amount of sympathy for him.

"Parteen is such sweet sorrow," one of the gang quipped, parodying the Bard in a slick reference to her home village just over the Shannon from the Treaty City.

It came to mind this week as I tried to bone up on the new Dáil constituencies which will apply at the next general election. Park speculation about election timing, suffice to say that, if it is not in 2018, it will happen soon afterwards.

The constituency changes, based on an independent report and voted quietly into law just before the Christmas break, are not major. They are, however, important for the people who live in those places affected.

And, in a tight election count, those changes could help spell the end of a long-serving TD's career, or a breakthrough for a newcomer.

The bigger-picture changes are easily tracked. Based on a 4pc population increase in the 2016 Census, the number of TDs goes back up from 158 to 160. Extra seats go to Cavan-Monaghan, bringing it to a five-seater; and to Kildare South and Dublin Central, taking those two to four-seaters.

I mentioned Clare at the outset because the part of it abutting Limerick city has had contentious boundary changes. Some years ago, people around the aforementioned Parteen found themselves voting with their Limerick city neighbours in Dáil elections.

Locally they voted for Clare County Council, but in European Parliament elections they voted in what we used to call Connacht-Ulster. That put them in the same electoral area as people on Tory Island and those living in Drumlin country.

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Now Clare has achieved the full reintegration of its territory with an area where 6,000 people live moved from Limerick city back to Clare. Limerick Labour TD, Jan O'Sullivan, has been stoic about the experience, though her base close to the Clare border means it is not helpful for her.

A similar change in Carlow saw Fine Gael's redoubtable Pat Deering crow delightedly: "Carlow has been re-united." He has been up to now an electoral anomaly, as a Carlow-Kilkenny TD since 2011, he lives in a part of Carlow which, to the resentment of its inhabitants, had been lumped in with Wicklow.

It is again about the breach of county boundaries. That is something the independent experts are told to avoid where possible. A breach of county boundaries often stokes dormant old animosities but it is also a hard circle to square.

The local government minister responsible, John Paul Phelan of Kilkenny, is himself no stranger to boundary rows. He noted that to minimise county boundary breaches, the experts had followed previous practice and joined two entire counties into a single constituency: Carlow-Kilkenny, Sligo-Leitrim and Cavan-Monaghan.

John Paul Phelan also conceded that new county boundary breaches were deemed necessary in Laois, Offaly, Meath, Roscommon and Tipperary. Other boundary breaches already in place under existing Dáil constituencies were also retained.

This can throw up strange anomalies. It means for example that sitting Kildare South TDs, Fiona O'Loughlin of Fianna Fáil and Martin Heydon of Fine Gael, are now making representations to three county councils due to the addition of chunks of Laois and Offaly.

John Downing is an Irish Independent political correspondent

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