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Constituency Review Submission from Carol Harte

Carol Harte

Submission ID: S35

Date

10/05/2023

Constituency

Laois-Offaly

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Dear Sir/Madam,

I wish to make a submission to An Comisiún Toghcháin, the Electoral Commission, in respect of the review of the Dail constituencies for the next General Election. In particular, I want to focus on the Laois/Offaly constituency but also taking into consideration other adjoining counties, especially in the Leinster region.

Laois/Offaly has traditionally been a one 5-seat Dail constituency, since the foundation of the State. The two counties were split into two 3-seat constituencies for the 2016 General Election. This necessitated both the inclusion of a portion of south Kildare into the Laois constituency and also the inclusion of a portion of Tipperary into the Offaly constituency, on that occasion. Also, in the 2011 General Election, a portion of south Offaly was included in the Tipperary constituency.

On each of these occasions, this necessitated various breaches of county boundaries and breaches of the provincial boundary. None of this is necessary on this occasion.

Currently, the counties of Laois and Offaly are linked with the Kildare South constituency. Parts of both county Laois and county Offaly are included in the Kildare South constituency. This has meant a number of breaches of the traditional county boundaries, which is now unnecessary, given the current population figures.

In county Kildare, the population is 246,997. This is clearly over the constitutional limit to elect 8 TDs. There is an excess of population, which could possibly be included in the Meath, Wicklow or Carlow/Kilkenny constituencies. This would also avoid the need to link parts of Kildare with Dublin. It is important to continue the integrity of the Capital and the separation of Dublin City and
County from the rest of Leinster.

Carlow/Kilkenny have had historical links and ties and neither county has had any links with the Laois/Offaly constituency in the past. There is no reasonable case why these counties should be considered in the context of Laois and Offaly. This would be unprecedented and would involve breaches of these county boundaries for the Dail constituencies for the first time ever and this is wholly unnecessary.

It is explicit in the terms of reference that the breaching of county boundaries shall be avoided as far as practicable.

In my view, it is also implicit that provincial boundaries should not be breached, as to do so, would involve a breach of county boundaries in the first instance.

The populations of county Laois and county Offaly combine to a total of 174,325. This gives an average population per TD, for the current 5-seat constituency of 34,865. This is clearly not in line with the Constitution. This would be optimal for a 6-seat constituency. However, the terms of reference do not provide for 6- seat constituencies. Hence, two 3-seat constituencies is the clear and obvious option.

CountyCurrent PopulationPopulation per TD (based on two 3-seat constituencies/0
Laois91,65730,552
Offaly82,66827,556

If two 3-seat constituencies were to be based strictly on a county boundary basis, the population per TD in a new Laois constituency would be 30,552. This is in excess of the 30,000 constitutional population limit per TD. This excess can easily be dealt with by including some portion of the population of county Laois into Offaly to facilitate two 3-seat constituencies.

It is also important to look at the terms of reference, which states that the number of TDs may be increased up as far as 181. An increase of 21 TDs would be substantial. One option would be to increase the number of TDs to 171.

However, this would lead to great difficulty to achieve the necessary terms of reference and prevent numerous breaches of county boundaries.

Accordingly, I recommend that the Commission look at providing for 176 TDs for the next General Election and this would allow it to take into account special circumstances. This is also the mid-point between the minimum of 171 TDs and maximum of 181 TDs, as set out in the terms of reference.

The national population is 5,123,536. If 176 TDs were recommended, the average population per TD would be 29,111. If 181 TDs were recommended, the average population per TD would be 28,306.

Including approximately 4,500 people from county Laois in an Offaly constituency would give a very similar population in both constituencies. Based on 176 TDs, there would be no variance from the national average per TD of 29,111. Based on 181 TDs, there would be a minor variance from the national average per TD of 28,306.

I believe this is the most practical way to look at the current constituency of Laois/Offaly and this would involve minimal change in the county boundaries. I set out below a number of options whereby this proposal can be achieved, for consideration by the Commission.

Option 1: Include 4,500 people from Portarlington South DED into Offaly.

The most obvious area for consideration is in respect of the town of Portarlington. Currently, the county boundary between Laois and Offaly already runs through the town of Portarlington. Part of the town is in Laois and part of the town is in Offaly.

This option would work very smoothly as there is excellent co-operation at local level in terms of the democratic process. Both Laois and Offaly Local Authorities have an excellent working relationship, having worked in co-operation in producing a Local Area Development Plan for Portarlington, which is included in both Counties’ Development Plans. Similarly, Government services are delivered on a town basis rather than a county boundary basis, such as education, health services and social protection. Clearly, a change solely for constituency boundaries, would not have a significant impact on the daily lives of the people in Portarlington.

Population for two new 3-seat constituencies based on the inclusion of 4,500 people from Laois to Offaly:

New ConstituencyRevised PopulationPopulation  per TD
Laois87,15729,052
Offaly87,16829,056

I suggest that part of the work of the Commission would be to identify those areas closest to the Laois and Offaly county boundaries in the town of Portarlington, and ‘include the required number of areas, streets and housing estates in Laois into the Offaly constituency. This would necessitate part of the Portarlington South DED being included in the Offaly constituency and part of the DED remaining in the Laois constituency. This is the most minimal and straight-forward way of achieving this objective. I recommend that this be implemented by the Commission.

  1. Other options.

a) The current population of the Portarlington South DED is 7,856. Clearly, to move the entirety of this DED to the Offaly constituency would cause an unnecessary imbalance of population per TD in the constituencies of both Laois and Offaly. To maintain a reasonable population balance between the two constituencies, this would require the inclusion of more than
3,000 people from another part of Offaly into the Laois constituency. This would entail two breaches of county boundaries, which should not be considered, as it is unnecessary.

b) If it was decided to include a number of Laois DEDs into the Offaly constituency, other than in the Portarlington area, it would consist of substantial and unnecessary inclusion of a large number of DEDs in county Laois in the Offaly constituency. This is possible by the inclusion of anywhere between 9 and 14 DEDs with a population of approximately 4,500 from county Laois into the Offaly constituency. This would take an unduly large portion of Laois into the Offaly constituency, which is unnecessary.

There is also a very significant geographical consideration by doing this. A number of the DEDs included in this option are north of the Slieve Bloom mountains and a number of DEDs are south of the Slieve Bloom mountains. Many of these Laois DEDs would be physically isolated from the new Offaly constituency. The terms of reference states there shall be regard to the geographic considerations including significant physical features and the extent of and the density of population in each constituency. For the Commission to recommend this, would be a wholly unnecessary and avoidable breach of the terms of reference.

Finally, it is important to maintain the continuity that has existed in the close connection between Laois and Offaly throughout the years. However, due to the population increases in both counties, I acknowledge that this is not possible. In keeping with the terms of reference, in respect of Laois and Offaly, two 3-seat constituencies can be formed, with minimal change and breach of a county boundary. All in all, I would ask that the Commission recommend option 1: the inclusion of 4,500 people from the Laois side of the town of Portarlington in the proposed new Offaly constituency. This is the most workable and practical option, with the most minimal change, to achieve the overall objectives of Commission’s work.

Yours sincerely,

Carol Harte

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