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Constituency Review Submission from Jason Fitzharris

Jason Fitzharris

Submission ID: S324




Dublin Fingal, European Constituencies - Dublin, European Constituencies - South, European Constituencies - Midlands-North-West

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Dear Electoral Commission,

I make the following recommendations for your consideration:
1. Split Dublin Fingal into two 3-seat constituencies.
2. Swords, the county town of Fingal, should NOT be split between two constituencies.
3. Suggest to the government to fix the number of TDs.
4. Suggest to the government a single national European parliamentary constituency using list PR.

Dublin Fingal
The constituency of Dublin Fingal has the highest under representation with 34,138 people per TDs, a variance of +6.61.
As this is over the 30,000 constitutional upper limit, the constituency needs to be resized.
An extra seat can not be added as Dublin Fingal already has five seats, so either part(s) of the constituency need to be shaved off into other constituencies, or the constituency be split in two.
Assuming an increase in the Dáil to 181 TDs, this gives 28,300 people per TD nationally.
With Dublin Fingal having a population of 170,690, dividing by 28,300 gives 6.03 seats.
Dublin Fingal could be split into two three seaters; Dublin Fingal North comprising of the towns of Balbriggan, Skerries, Rush, Lusk and the rural area; and Dublin Fingal South comprising of Donabate, Malahide and the county town of Swords.

NO Splitting of Swords
The county town of Fingal is Swords, and like any county town it should not be split between two constituencies.

Unless already split by a county boundary, no other county town would be split between two constituencies, so why should Swords be treated any differently?
Swords was split by the Constituency Commission in 2007, only for them to quickly reverse that decision in 2012, showing how wrong their first decision was.
Just because Swords is the county town of a Dublin county does not make it less important that other county town. In fact, it is more important because it is an Irish county town of an Irish county.
It should be remembered that the 32 traditional counties of Ireland were shired by two English monarchs, King John and Queen Elizabeth I. They are not even Irish, being merely administrative colonial leftovers.
In contrast, Fingal, along with South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, are truly Irish as they were created in 1994 by the sovereign parliament and government of the Irish people.
Therefore counties and county towns created by the Irish people should be more treasured, protected and valued than counties and county towns created by English monarchs. In summary, Swords can not and should not be split.

Fixing Size of Dáil
Article 16.2.2 states that Dáil Éireann should have one member per 20,000 to 30,000 people, and we currently have 160 TDs.
With the nation’s population now increased to 5.1m, this requires adding at least another eleven TDs to bring us to at least 171, the highest number ever.
But this would only bring us just inside the upper 30,000 limit. As our population increases after the next census in four years time we would need to go 180 or more TDs.
If our population keeps growing at current rates we may need 200 TDs in 15-20 years time.
If unification were to ever happen in the next 20 years, we could need at least 250 TDs, if not more.
The Dáil chamber isn’t big enough to accomodate all these politicians, unless hot desking is introduced. And a new power station would be needed just to provide the electricity needed for the air conditioning to extract all the hot air they generate. Which is hardly environmentally friendly.
Democracy is like steak. While it is really tasty and juicy, too much of it is unhealthy. There is such a thing as too many politicians.
So, instead of a population based formula why not fix the number of TDs to a set number?
If more powers and responsibilities were devolved to local government, perhaps we could survive with a leaner Dáil Éireann fixed at, say, 150 TDs?
If that number seems low, consider that when our constitution was approved in 1937 Dáil Éireann only had 138 TDs.
And New Zealand, an island nation with a similar population, has only 120 MPs, and abolished its upper house in 1950! Only saying.
Expecting politicians to voluntarily reduce their numbers is like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas, but hope springs eternal.

While fixing the number of TDs is outside the Commission’s terms of reference, can I ask that the Commission suggest to the government that it be investigated as a possibility for future General elections.

Single European Constituency List
For some reason we stuck with PR-STV and constituencies of 3, 4 or 5 seats for European elections, and are unable or unwilling to consider alternatives.
Having 13-15 MEPs results in very, very large constituencies where it is impossible for candidates to do a traditional canvass. Instead elections are more like presidential elections with meet’n’greets in shopping centres and main streets. As MEPs spend a lot of time away in Brussels and Strasbourg, they can’t be on the ground as much as a TD or councillor can. The rationale for PR-STV to create a personal connection is questionable given the geographic size of European parliamentary constituencies. For example, it is unlikely that a voter in Louth is going to have a personal connection with a candidate from Mayo.

Aside from Malta which also uses PR-STV, the rest of Europe uses list PR, so why can’t we?
Opponents of list PR criticise it for making the politicians too remote from the voter. But this is already the case for MEPs anyway.
Opponents falsely claim you can’t vote for a person. Well you can. It is called an open list, where you vote for a candidate on the list. And if they exceed a set threshold that candidate can jump to the top of the list and get elected.
Another false claim is that non-party candidates are not allowed in list PR. Well they can, each is in their own one person list.
An advantage of a list system is that you can run as many candidates as seats. So instead of one candidate trying to cover a large constituency, you can have several, thus sharing the load. With more candidates, there are more opportunities for the voter to meet a candidate. More candidates means more opportunities for both candidates and voters, and how that can be bad for democracy.
A list also makes gender balance easier as you can have “zipper” lists with alternating male-female or female-male candidates.

What do Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden all have in common?
The answer is they have a single nationwide constituency for European Parliamentary elections.
Only Ireland and three other European countries (Belgium, Italy and Poland) have multiple European parliamentary constituencies.
A single national constituency is easier if you are using list PR which most European countries use.
Having a single national constituency avoids the need to constantly redraw boundaries, and bouncing border counties around between constituencies.
Having a single national constituency with an open list allows a voter in Wexford to vote for a candidate in Donegal.

While creating a single national European parliamentary constituency and introducing list PR is outside the Commission’s terms of reference, can I ask that the Commission suggest to the government that it be investigated as a possibility for future European elections.

Jason Fitzharris

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