THE Government will only cut the number of sitting TDs by a maximum of 16, in a significant U-turn on a key Fine Gael election promise.
The pledge to reduce the number of TDs by 20 to 146 had been a key part of Fine Gael's famous five-point plan, published just three months ago. But there was no such pledge in the Labour Party's election manifesto.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan yesterday announced the reduction in the number of TDs would be in line with the requirements of the Constitution. This will make it impossible to cut the number of number of TDs by 20.
The Constitution requires at least one TD per 30,000 population. Figures from the Central Statistics Office show that as of April last year, the population stood at 4,470,700.
This means there must be at least 150 TDs, so the Government can only cut the number by 16 -- unless the 2011 census shows a radical change in the population size.
Mr Hogan last night ruled out putting the question to a referendum.
He said: "We believe that by putting a proposal to abolish Seanad Eireann and reducing the number of TDs, we will achieve this 30pc reduction in the number of members in the Oireachtas from the beginning of the 32nd Dail."
The minister said the Government would set up a Constituency Commission and give it guidance on the maximum and minimum number of TDs it could cut under the Constitution to save an estimated €10m.
It would then be up to the commission to make the final decision on the number of TDs to cut -- and on which constituencies would lose out.
However, the number of TDs cut could be even less than 16 using the "30pc-reduction" target mentioned by Mr Hogan yesterday.
Fine Gael's 'Strategy for New Politics' election document said it would reduce the number of politicians by 35pc -- which would have eliminated the jobs of 20 TDs and all 60 senators. The 30pc-reduction target would only allow for the cutting of 12 TDs and 60 senators.
Fianna Fail environment spokesman Niall Collins said it was clear that Fine Gael and Labour could not agree between them what the actual reduction in TDs should be.
"We'll be keeping an eye on Minister Hogan to see he doesn't interfere in the independence of the Constituency Commission," he said.
However, he welcomed plans announced by the Government to introduce legislation requiring all Dail by-elections to be held within six months.
Mr Hogan said it was designed to end "farcical situations", such as 17-month delay in holding the Donegal South West by-election.
Meanwhile, the spending limits for the presidential election in October are to be cut from €1.3m to €750,000.
Candidates will be able to claim back a maximum of €200,000 in expenses -- down from €260,000.
"This allows campaign teams to plan well in advance of the election for a more frugal campaign," Mr Hogan said.
Enda's visage was suffused by a pink hue even more vivid than his cerise-coloured tie. After weeks of pleasant, iceberg-free sailing through the various sessions of Dail questions, the Taoiseach had finally found himself in choppy waters when a pirate-ship suddenly hove into view on the horizon.