Fine Gael’s minority Government, dependent on a Confidence and Supply Agreement with Fianna Fáil, has had the near-constant prospect of a general election hanging over it since its formation in May 2016.
In the past year, we’ve seen numerous key policy issues threaten the arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. This summer alone, the appointment of the Attorney General Máire Whelan and the Judicial Appointments Bill saw Fianna Fáil draw close to pulling its support for new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Government.
With Budget 2018 on the horizon, any divergence between the parties on budgetary allocations makes Government collapse a real possibility. Key issues to watch for will be cuts to the USC rate, extending mortgage interest relief, and increases to the old age pension.
This instability means that political parties and Independent TDs will be paying close attention to the lay of the land on a constituency level, particularly where changes to constituency boundaries could affect their key centres of electoral support.
The Constituency Commission, established to review and revise constituency boundaries after the 2016 Census results, has made a number of recommended changes. These may prove of vital importance in the next election.
The Constituency Commission has increased the number of 4 and 5-seat constituencies, which may make it easier for smaller parties to take the fourth or fifth seat after established candidates from the larger parties have regained theirs.
Quotas on the number of female candidates have resulted in a trend towards one male/one female candidate from the main parties on the ballot. The addition of seats may allow vote transfers from established party candidates to benefit their running mates, with new, female candidates the potential beneficiaries.
Many of the Constituency Commission’s recommendations will see a reversal of the previous changes to constituency boundaries. The Commission has also worked to realign constituency boundaries so that they map onto existing county borders.
2016 Census shows the Irish population is now at 4,761,865, with 1,347,359 people living in Dublin.
Based on the current population, the Constitution requires total Dáil membership to be set between 159 and 238.
The Constituency Commission recommends increasing the number of TDs to the maximum 160 members allowed under current legislation.
Article 16.2 of the Constitution requires that the total number of TDs is no less than 1 member per 30,000 population and no more than 1 member per 20,000.
The current national average is a population of 29,762 for every 1 TD.
Breakdown of Seat Changes by Constituency:
Dublin Central is to become a 4-seat constituency, taking 4 electoral divisions from Dublin North West and 1 electoral division from Dublin Bay North.
Population transfers will consist of12,394 from Dublin North West and 5,064 from Dublin Bay North.
Dublin Central is the constituency home of Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure & Reform Paschal Donohoe, as well as Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald. Minister Donohoe faced a difficult re-election campaign after the last round of constituency revisions shifted much of his electoral base to Dublin North-West. The Commission’s suggested boundary revisions will work in his favour this time.
The third seat in the constituency was narrowly taken by Independent Maureen O’Sullivan in the last election, with the Social Democrats’ Gary Gannon losing out by a tiny 321 votes. Labour may see the constituency changes as an opportunity to recover the seat lost by Joe Costello in the last election, as part of Labour’s nationwide routing at the polls.
Cavan-Monaghan is to become a 5-seat constituency, with all of County Cavan transferring to the Cavan-Monaghan constituency. This will result in a population transfer of 3,973 from 7 electoral divisions in Meath East to Cavan-Monaghan. A further population of 13,150 will also transfer from the current Sligo-Leitrim constituency.
Minister for Culture, Heather Humphreys, topped the poll in 2016, followed by Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, and two Fianna Fáil deputies, Brendan Smith and Niamh Smyth.
An extra seat in the constituency may open the door for Senator Joe O’Reilly of Fine Gael to regain the seat he lost in the last election. However, strong support for former Sinn Féin senator Kathryn Reilly may suggest sufficient support for a second Sinn Féin seat in the constituency.
Kildare South will gain a seat, increasing to a 4-seat constituency. 7,892 of Kildare population currently encompassed by the existing Laois constituency will return to Kildare South. A further 9,450 from Laois, 2,404 from Offaly and 3,226 from Kildare North will also transfer.
Martin Heydon, Chair of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, was the poll-topper in 2016, followed by Fiona O’Loughlin of Fianna Fáil who scooped up the seat left vacant by the retirement of Labour’s Jack Wall.
Fianna Fáil’s Seán Ó Fearghaíl, the current Ceann Comhairle, was elected third. He is the first Ceann Comhairle to have been elected by secret ballot. If he retains that position, he will be automatically returned to the 33rd Dáil.
The addition of a seat will be good news for Labour’s Mark Wall, who fell short of maintaining his father’s seat in the last election.
The counties of Laois and Offaly will be joined to form a single 5-seat constituency. This necessitates a transfer of 11,954 population to Kildare South.
The Constituency Commission’s recommendations are to restore the Laois-Offaly constituency which existed from the foundation of the State in 1921, right up to the 2016 election. The 32nd Dáil term saw Laois and Offaly split into two 3-seat constituencies, with 6 TDs representing each of the two counties.
The Commission’s recommendation to combine the constituencies means the counties will lose the additional seat they gained in 2016, becoming a combined 5-seat single constituency. As the 6 seats previously available shrink to 5, a tough election campaign is likely for incumbent TDs, as well as the candidates hoping to unseat them.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is Fine Gael’s stalwart in Laois, while Sean Fleming of Fianna Fáil topped the poll at the last election. Barry Cowen, Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Housing, Planning & Local Government, has strong support in Offaly and is likely to keep his seat.
Other seat holders include Fine Gael’s Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy who lost her position as junior minister for health promotion in Taoiseach Varadkar’s recent cabinet reshuffle. Sinn Féin’s Carol Nolan and Brian Stanley hold the last two seats.