Before the break I was discussing the terms of reference the commission had been given and made the point that these had been set by the previous Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition Government. When we had statements on the matter in the summer, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government who was appointed, obviously, by the Taoiseach said that precedent should not be broken. That point has been made today by other speakers. The commission was set up in the late 1970s and there has not been a change since. We have had a succession of statements in the intervening period taking the exact opposite position, calling for an end to precedent and the seeking of greater consensus. I shall deal shortly with how it might be changed. The point should be made, however, that while some of us might be particularly affected, we should not necessarily have the power to change constituency boundaries because obviously we might proceed in our own interests rather than the greater democratic good. There was talk at the time that matters could be changed if all parties agreed. I believe one Fianna Fáil Deputy put this argument in a letter to people in his constituency and the issue was raised in the House at the time. At no point were any solutions or changes on offer. At no point did Fine Gael receive any basis for discussing this proposal or working on it. That is the reality. Some county councillors, in particular, are disappointed at the lack of progress in this regard, but no realistic attempt was ever made to do anything about it. Like it or not, what happens here tends to boil down to the numbers game. If people on the other side of the House feel that strongly about particular issues, they have the numbers and the power to make the changes, regardless of whether the Opposition likes it.
Deputy Cregan made a point that the effect of such changes could ruin the careers of individuals and said we did not have to accept the report. If I understood him correctly, he was saying that if we changed it, it would not mean all others had to be altered — he cited health and so on as examples. Health and other reports that come before us can actually affect people's lives, not just their careers. If we want to break precedent, there are plenty of other reports at which we could look. Many speakers on all sides of the House would be willing to see some reports on other areas that have been proposed and not implemented — at least not in their totality — changed.
I want to make a point as regards my constituency, especially the area of south Offaly. There is no doubt that the people of that area want to vote in the constituency in which they have always voted, Laois-Offaly. No doubt, I want them to continue to vote there also. It must be emphasised that this proposal represents a breach of a provincial boundary. Effectively, people from County Offaly are being asked to vote in Munster, in a constituency that will be called North Tipperary, which bears no reference to the name of their own county. This will be alien to many, a point that needs to be made. Deputy Cregan stated he would have to shift his tent to a different area. I will not have to do so but I am unhappy to lose the portion of my constituency I have lost.
The area affected comprises Shinrone, Moneygall, Dunkerrin, Coolderry and Barna and it is even more disturbing that a village such as Coolderry is being divided. As a consequence, some people in the parish will vote in north Tipperary or Munster and the remainder will vote in the Laois-Offaly constituency. This will create significant confusion. While general elections in recent years have always been held on separate dates to local and European elections because the House has not fallen, a general election could be held on the same date as local and European elections. If that happens, I am not sure which polling booths voters in Coolderry, for example, should attend. Will officials from North Tipperary and Offaly County Councils operate from the same polling booth to ensure votes are cast in all three elections? These issues have not been adequately teased out and they will cause confusion.
People's resolve in this regard should not be underestimated. When the constituency review was published, I received negative feedback in the area because people do not feel any affinity with their new constituency and they feel less inclined to vote. The one saving grace is the legislation will take account of the Clarke judgment and preliminary census figures can be used in future to redraw constituencies. Government Members and councillors in the south Offaly area who are concerned about the recent change can take heart from the fact that the person who has the power to name the date of the next general election and to wait until the preliminary census figures are published is the Taoiseach. He may give consideration to the wishes of the people of south Offaly if the census highlights a population change in the area.
Deputy Varadkar referred to the operation of electoral commissions in other countries, which produce interim reports for consultation. The Constituency Commission will argue consultation was facilitated and people could have made submissions, but no one in south Offaly ever envisaged that a portion of the constituency, which had never been touched in the history of the State, would be transferred to Munster. They, therefore, did not feel the need to make submissions. Should they have made submissions seeking the status quo or should they have made submissions stating other towns and villages should be hived elsewhere? That is not realistic. If the Constituency Commission had reported and people could have had a debate on the report and made submissions on its recommendations, difficulties such as that in south Offaly could have been ironed out. When the preliminary figures for the next census are published, the Government should give consideration to doing this because it is important.
Spending limits for both local and general elections will be examined and proposed local government legislation will provide us with an opportunity to discuss the issue. There is a great deal of merit to examining how such limits are decided and to include the period in the lead up to the calling of elections and not only the period from when the election is called. However, I issue a word of caution. A candidate can submit his or her name on the day nominations close having spent significant sums prior to that, which is not reckonable. This is of particular concern to us as sitting Members. It is generally accepted all of us will run in a general election whereas it will not be as clear where other candidates are concerned. The amount spent must be examined and a fairer system needs to be introduced. Deputy Varadkar suggests spending limits should be set on the basis of population but I have a different perspective coming from a rural constituency. I could do a leaflet drop with constituency workers in Tullamore in a night, despite it being a large town, but it could take a month to do a similar drop in the town's hinterland. Other more expensive methods must be considered as a result. Cognisance, therefore, must be taken of the urban-rural divide.
I reiterate the need to change how boundary reviews are conducted in future. I am proud to serve south Offaly and I will continue to serve the constituency of Laois-Offaly because the people elected me to do so for the lifetime of the Dáil. Unlike Deputy Cregan, I will not have to shift my tent but I will have to shift somebody else's to replace the votes I have lost. The Constituency Commission members are decent people but they need to be more cognisant of the strength of feeling in particular areas. Everyone cannot intimately know the Deputies who represent them but parish and provincial boundaries need to remain intact for the sake of the people and the practicalities involved.