High Noonan for deputies as minister winds them up
MICHAEL Noonan has been up to mischief with Fine Gael backbenchers, telling them he knows the details of the new electoral map and how they're in trouble.
Holding court in the Dail bar, the Finance Minister has been calling fellahs aside to give them chapter and verse on what's happening in their constituency -- invariably their worst case scenario.
"It's not looking good for you," he advises with avuncular wisdom.
Among his latest victims of this wind-up were Jerry Buttimer, who he confided has lost all his heartland in Cork South-Central, and Patrick O'Donovan, who he'd told is keeping part of his Limerick County constituency where he is weakest.
In one case, he apparently told two TDs from the same constituency the complete opposite tall tale. "He has 25 different stories he's been throwing out over the past month for the craic," a party colleague said.
Noonan actually has no idea what's in the report, apart from what's on the grapevine based on assumptions.
The veteran minister is merely playing on the acute paranoia of TDs ahead of the redraw of the electoral map.
Every TD lives in fear of their home turf being cut off and put into another constituency.
In that event, a sitting TD must decide whether to stay with their old constituency or go with their heartland to the new area.
At the time of the publication of the last redraw by the Constituency Commission, there was a queue of TDs and their staff waiting to get the report when it arrived at the enquiries office in Leinster House.
To make matters worse, this time out the redraw of the electoral map will result in the number of TDs being reduced, on foot of an instruction from the Government.
The commission could reduce the number of seats by anything up to 16, but appears to have stopped at eight.
The eight TDs are being referred to as the "Dead Men Walking".
The changes in population, combined with the reduction in TDs, will result in large tracts of the country being changed politically.
To stay within the constitutional confines of having one TD per 20,000 to 30,000 people, and keeping the figures per TD largely balanced, the commission has great difficulty in maintaining county boundaries.
Although it is supposed to try not to breach boundaries and use the available geography, such as roads and rivers, to mark dividing lines, it's not always possible.
The problem with individual changes is they have knock-on effects for neighbouring constituencies.
TDs from the following areas of the country are holding their breath to see what's the outcome of the scrutiny:
• Dublin's northside: long overdue a proper redraw, which coincidentally never happened during Bertie Ahern's term as Taoiseach. Between them, the four northside city constituencies have 13 TDs, but this will come down to 12.
• Dublin's southside: down a seat after this redraw, it will come from the leafy suburbs of Dun Laoghaire, Dublin South or Dublin South-East.
• Midlands: the growing population in Laois ought to result in the county getting another TD, which would require it to break away from Offaly. Hence the talk of a new Offaly-Westmeath constituency.
• Connacht: taking a seat away is quite difficult. A number of options are available, including a Galway East-Roscommon with Sligo-Leitrim being restored, reducing Mayo to four TDs or taking in parts of Cavan or Westmeath.
• Cavan-Monaghan: currently a five seater, it might end up with four seats with west Cavan going in with Leitrim.
• Cork city: All the talk is about the commuter belt of Cork South-Central being removed and put into a new constituency, with a reduction of one seat.
• Kerry, Donegal, Tipperary: All three counties are tipped to be reduced from two three-seaters to one five-seater, but Kerry is the only definite.