The biggest shake-up in the number of TDs in half a century will cause ripple effects right across the country – and there’ll be winners and losers.
The population of the country has broken the five million mark for the first time since the Famine. As a result, the country has to get extra TDs. The Constitution says there has to be a TD for every 30,000 people. The only way to change that rule is by referendum and there is no appetite to go down that road.
The latest Census puts the population at 5,123,526, meaning there has to be at least 171 TDs next time out.
By the time geographical considerations are brought into play, there’ll probably be about 175 TDs – up from the current 160. The last big jump was in the 1974 revision when the number of TDs jumped from 148 to 166 in the 1977 general election.
The next general election is due in 2025. The decisions on where to put the extra TDs and the drawing of constituencies will be undertaken by the new independent elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission. Although yet to be set up, the quango will have to report back by around this time next year.
However, the usual rules will be in place, about abiding by county, regional and geographic boundaries where possible and ensuring there is a general balance in each constituency of the population per TD.
At the moment, Dublin North-West has one TD for every 28,199 people and Dún Laoghaire has a population per TD of 31,270, with everyone else in between. But Census 2022 has put 38 of the 39 constituencies over the 30,000 mark, so there will be widespread changes. And the current range of three, four and five seats per constituency isn’t changing either. Going up to six seats per constituency has already been ruled out in the Oireachtas debate on the law to set up the Electoral Commission.
Roughly speaking, the High Court judge in charge of the carve-up will end up with five extra seats in Dublin, two in Cork city and county, two more in the commuter belt of Meath and Kildare, one or two more in the south-east pocket of Wexford and Carlow-Kilkenny, one or two more seats in the midlands counties of Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford and one or two more seats in Donegal, Sligo and Mayo. Here’s the personalities with the keenest eye on the redrawing of the map.
Dublin will get at least five more TDs, and Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien’s constituency of Dublin Fingal is now the most over-populated constituency in the country. The redraw begins here. Covering north Co Dublin, it’s bursting at the seams, with more than enough population for six TDs. The options are to hive off a chunk of it or split it in two. The former happened before with Swords divided in two and didn’t go down well. The simpler and ideal scenario for O’Brien is the creation of a quasi- airport constituency taking in Swords, Portmarnock and his bailiwick of Malahide, and a Dublin North County with Donabate, Skerries and Balbriggan. Nice and tidy for O’Brien.
Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman Pearse Doherty is eyeing up three seats out of five in Donegal next time, with his colleague Pádraig MacLochlainn. But the Census throws up the prospect of Donegal being split again as it currently has 10,000 people around Ballyshannon exiled in Sligo-Leitrim and there’s certainly an extra seat going somewhere in the north-west.
Then Doherty and MacLochlainn would go back to their old north and south ends and aim to take four seats in the county. An eminently doable double.
Running out of Meath East at the last general election by losing to Helen McEntee for the sole Fine Gael seat, Regina Doherty weighed up where to go next. The former Social Protection Minister is originally from Finglas, went to school in Glasnevin and college in DCU, so a return home to Dublin North-West was an option. However, that’s not exactly Fine Gael fertile ground, so she hopped down the road from Ratoath in Meath to Dublin Fingal.
Nestling in, she opened a constituency office in Skerries and will be perfectly placed if a new Dublin North County constituency is created. The gamble will pay off.
The five-seater of Tipperary is another candidate for division back to the old Tipp North and Tipp South set-up. Such an eventuality would place Independent TD Michael Lowry back up north and with a decision to make on a second Team Lowry candidate in the south.
The former Fine Gael minister will be hitting 72 next time so has another run left in him. But there has long been speculation about handing over to his councillor son, Micheál – or indeed a reconciliation with Fine Gael.
What better way to go than both Lowry Senior and Junior running at either end. Once again, this would scare the life out of Fine Gael, particularly party senator Garret Ahearn.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is already on the endangered species list in Wicklow, but a potential redraw outcome would make it a whole lot worse. Wicklow’s population isn’t quite the problem, it’s the knock-on effects around it with Wexford, Kildare and Carlow-Kilkenny all potentials for extra seats, resulting in suggestions of a South Wicklow-North Wexford unholy alliance.
Donnelly then gets squeezed in North Wicklow where all five sitting TDs are based. Sinn Féin John Brady and Fine Gael’s Simon Harris would be safe, leaving Donnelly fighting a losing battle with Social Democrat Jennifer Whitmore and the Green Party’s Steven Mathews. Salvation would be a chunk of west Wicklow around Baltinglass going into Kildare North. Nervous times.
Still a fairly young man by political standards, the then former Taoiseach Micheál Martin won’t even have reached teacher retirement age of 65 come the next general election. Of course, the Fianna Fáil leader might even be gone to Brussels at that stage.
Cork is definitely getting two more TDs, but where they go is all to play for. Restoring Martin’s patch of Cork South-Central to a five-seater by reclaiming the commuter belt of Bishopstown and Ballincollig would make it far easier for Martin to pass the seat on to the next generation, with a moulding of a successor in the local elections.
While the good people of Kerry did increase in number over the past five years, they didn’t grow by too much. The county won’t have to be divided into two, much to the relief of Independent TDs Michael and Danny Healy-Rae. The brothers have mastered the political divide of the count, with Danny holding the fort around their native Kilgarvan and Killarney in south Kerry, with Michael venturing beyond for votes. It works a treat.
A divide of the county into the old Kerry South and Kerry North would leave the family to decide who gets the short straw. Instead, to balance the books, expect about 5,000 people in north-east Kerry, from Tarbert down to Brosna, to become refugees in the Limerick County constituency – or worse, the Beara Peninsula ends up in Cork South-West.
Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers was taken out by the Sinn Féin surge but a door could open depending upon the rejigging of Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, which is currently a dogs’ dinner, with Galway butchered into three parts.
A cleaner divide could involve making Mayo a five-seat constituency again, taking in a chunk of either Galway or Roscommon. Fingers crossed in Castlebar.