I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
In commending the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill to this House, I am asking Dáil Éireann to continue the long-established practice of implementing in full the recommendations of independent constituency reviews.
The Bill provides for the implementation of the recommendations in the report on European Parliament constituencies 2013, which was presented to the Ceann Comhairle on 25 September 2013. It is a short Bill providing for the election of 11 MEPs in Ireland for the 2014 to 2019 parliamentary term.
The Bill has four sections. Section 1 provides that the principal Act referred to in the Bill is the European Parliament Elections Act 1997. It is that Act that is being amended. Section 2 provides, by amending section 15 of the principal Act, that the counties and cities listed in the new third Schedule of the Act will be those in existence on 1 January 2013. Section 3 provides for the substitution of the Third Schedule of the principal Act. The new Third Schedule sets out the name of each constituency, the counties and cities that each constituency will be comprised of and the number of members that will be elected for each constituency in European elections held after 1 January 2014.
The major change from the current configuration is that there will be three constituencies instead of four. The reason for this change is that the Electoral Act 1997 specifies that there shall be three, four or five members in a European Parliament constituency. Given that 11 members are to be elected for the 2014 to 2019 parliamentary term, having four constituencies is not a viable option since it is not possible to allocate 11 seats across four constituencies of three, four or five members.
I will set out, for the record of the House, the configuration of each of the three constituencies. The three-seat Dublin constituency remains unchanged. This will be comprised of the counties of Fingal, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and south Dublin, along with the city of Dublin. There will be a new four-seat Midlands-North-West constituency. This will be comprised of the counties of Cavan, Donegal, Galway, Kildare, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo and Westmeath, along with the city of Galway. In effect, this new constituency consists of the current North-West constituency, along with five counties which were in the former East constituency, but it will not contain County Clare. The new South constituency will be comprised of the current South constituency along with four counties from the former East constituency and County Clare. It will consist of the counties of Carlow, Clare, Cork, Kerry, Kilkenny, Limerick, North Tipperary, South Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow, along with the cities of Cork, Limerick and Waterford.
The population per MEP in the three constituencies ranges from 409,276 to just 424,356, which is a very narrow range in terms of the variance of population per MEP. Thus, there is a very fair balance of representation between the three constituencies. The Dublin constituency will see its representation closely aligned with the other constituencies in the State. There is a considerable degree of continuity in the arrangement of the constituencies in spite of the change from four to three. The new Midlands-North-West will subsume the current North-West constituency along with the northern part of the East constituency, while the new South will take in the current South constituency, along with Clare and the southern part of the East constituency. The Dublin constituency will remain unchanged.
The previous Constituency Commission reported in 2012 and recommended no change to the European constituencies at that time. In the normal course, constituency commissions were only set up following a national census of population. However, with the impending accession of Croatia to the European Union, the European Council decided in June 2013 on a new allocation of seats to member states in the European Parliament. The Electoral, Local Government and Planning and Development Act 2013 provided for the amendment of electoral law to allow for the setting up of a constituency committee in the circumstance that the allocation of seats to the European Parliament had been changed but a census was not held or due to be held. The European Parliament constituency committee was duly set up and reported on 25 September 2013. This Bill provides for the implementation of the recommendations in the committee's report.
As I said in my introduction, this is a short Bill. It has the specific purpose of providing for new constituencies in which 11 MEPs will be elected to represent the State in the European Parliament for the 2014 to 2019 parliamentary term. I commend the Bill to the House.