I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".
There is not a huge crowd here, but I would like to do something irregular. I notice a group of my neighbours from south Kilkenny in the Public Gallery and I acknowledge their presence.
The purpose of the Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2017 is to provide for the number of members of Dáil Éireann and for the revision of constituencies and the number of members to be elected for such constituencies in light of the results of census 2016. It also provides for an amendment of the Electoral Act 1997. In broad terms, the Bill provides for the total number of members of Dáil Éireann to be 160 and for the number of constituencies to be 39 in accordance with the recommendations contained in the Constituency Commission Report 2017. In debating and deciding upon this Bill, the Oireachtas will meet its constitutional obligation to review and revise constituencies with due regard to population changes and distribution around the country. To support the Oireachtas in this task, the Electoral Act 1997 provides for the establishment of an independent Constituency Commission and for that commission to report to the Ceann Comhairle on the conclusion of its work. The most recent commission reported to the Ceann Comhairle on 27 June 2017. Since the report’s publication, the Government has given due consideration to the recommendations of the commission and, in accordance with accepted practice since 1980, has agreed to implement those recommendations in full and without change. The Bill now before the House provides for this.
Our Constitution sets out, clearly and distinctly, the overarching requirements that apply to the membership of Dáil Éireann. In addition, and complementary to these constitutional provisions, Part II of the Electoral Act 1997 provides for a constituency review following each census of population and establishes, among other things, the terms of reference of a Constituency Commission. By way of summary, the following constitutional provisions are of particular note. The provisions principally relate to Article 16 of the Constitution. Article 16.2.2o states, "The number of members shall from time to time be fixed by law, but the total number of members of Dáil Éireann shall not be fixed at less than one member for each thirty thousand of the population, or at more than one member for each twenty thousand of the population." Article 16.2.3o provides that, “The ratio between the number of members to be elected at any time for each constituency and the population of each constituency, as ascertained at the last preceding census, shall, so far as it is practicable, be the some throughout the country." Article 16.2.4o states that, "The Oireachtas shall revise the constituencies at least once in every twelve years, with due regard to changes in distribution of the population".
In effect, these constitutional provisions require that Dáil constituencies be revised whenever population change, as ascertained in a census, leads to population to member ratios in individual constituencies that are significantly out of line with the national average or the limits set in the Constitution of one member to every 20,000 to 30,000 of population. It has been four years since the constituencies were last reviewed, by way of the Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Act 2013, which gave legal effect to the recommendations in the Constituency Commission Report 2012, which was, in turn, completed following census 2011. The results of census 2016 show a 3.8% increase in population since 2011 distributed unevenly across the country but largely on the eastern seaboard. The population is such now that the ratio of members to population, at 30,138, is outside the constitutional limit of 1 to 30,000. While this does not make the composition of the 31st Dáil unconstitutional, since it was formed on the basis of total numbers set with reference to census 2011, there is now an imperative to legislate for revised Dáil constituencies to bring them into line with the requirements of Article 16.2 of the Constitution in good time for the next election, whenever that happens. These constitutional provisions were considered by the courts in two cases in 1961, the High Court case of John O’Donovan v. The Attorney General, and the Supreme Court reference case relating to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 1961. They were considered again in the High Court case taken by Deputies Finian McGrath and Catherine Murphy in 2007 where it was argued that the constituencies on which the general election was being fought at that time did not comply with the requirements in Article 16 of the Constitution. In his judgment of 2007 in the latter case, Mr. Justice Clarke stated that he was satisfied that there is an "urgent burden" on the Oireachtas to review constituencies following a census. In effect, he concluded that the Oireachtas must act promptly to bring constituencies In line with population once a census reveals significant population change. The progression of the proposed Bill will now allow the Oireachtas to so act on this occasion.
Part II of the Electoral Act 1997 provides for the review of Dáil and European constituencies by an independent Constituency Commission, upon the publication of the census report setting out the preliminary census results. The terms of reference of the commission are specified in the Act. These provisions are, of course, subordinate to the constitutional requirements set out in Article 16.2. Following publication of the preliminary census results on 14 July 2016, a Constituency Commission was established to begin work on the review of Dáil and European Parliament constituencies and to report with recommendations. This was the fifth commission established under the 1997 Act. It was also the second statutory commission established with authority to commence work upon the publication of preliminary census results. This provision was in response to the High Court case taken by Deputies Finian McGrath and Catherine Murphy in 2007.
Final results for census 2016 were published on 6 April 2017, with the Constituency Commission Report 2017 subsequently finalised and presented to the Ceann Comhairle on 27 June 2017. The report was also laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on that date. The Constituency Commission recommended that the number of members of Dáil Éireann should be 160. This figure gives a ratio of one member to every 29,762 of population, which is quite close to the constitutional limit of one to every 30,000. While this is the highest ever ratio in the State, it is within the constitutional limit and, in recommending this figure, the Constituency Commission had regard to the maximum number permitted under section 6(2)(a) of the Electoral Act 1997. The Commission also recommended that there should be 39 constituencies.
It was recommended that 18 constituencies remain unchanged from the previous review completed in 2011.
The report of the Central Statistics Office on the final results of census 2016 showed the total population of the State to be 4,761,865, an increase of 173,613 people or 3.8% in the population since April 2011. The majority of that change was on the eastern side of the country. The commission had three months after the publication of those results within which to complete its work and report to the Ceann Comhairle with its recommendations. The report of the Constituency Commission was presented to the Ceann Comhairle on 27 June 2017 and was laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on the same date. In addition, copies were circulated to Members and the report was published on the website of the Constituency Commission.
By now I am sure that all Members are familiar with its content and its recommendations, but for the information of Deputies and the record of the House, I will outline the main features of the commission’s report on Dáil and European constituencies. The commission recommends that the number of Members of the Dáil should be 160. This is the maximum number permitted under section 6(2)(a) of the Electoral Act 1997 and provides for a Member to population ratio of 1:29,762. The commission recommended that there should be 13 five-seat constituencies, up from the current 11; some 17 four-seat constituencies, one more than at present; and nine three-seat constituencies, four fewer than at present. This gives a total of 39 constituencies, one less than at present.
The commission recommended that 18 constituencies should remain unchanged. These are, as listed in the commission report, Dublin Bay South, Dublin Fingal, Dublin South-Central, Dublin Mid-West, Dublin South-West, Dublin West, Meath West, Louth, Longford-Westmeath, Donegal, Cork East, Cork North-Central, Cork North-West, Cork South-Central, Cork South-West, Kerry, Waterford and Wexford.
Prior to arriving at its recommendations, the commission reported that it gave consideration to the possibilities of adhering to county boundaries in the drawing up of new constituency boundaries. However, the analysis showed that in many cases breaches to county boundaries would be unavoidable, having regard to the uneven distribution of population and to the constitutional requirement in Article 16.2 that the ratio of population to the number of Members should, as far as practicable, be the same throughout the country. In particular, the constitutional requirements could not be fully met at the two points in the range - 159 and 160 members - available to the commission under its terms of reference by adhering to county boundaries alone.
To minimise the number of breaches to county boundaries, the commission did, however, adhere to the views and practice of previous commissions in joining two entire counties into a single constituency in respect of Carlow-Kilkenny, Sligo-Leitrim and Cavan-Monaghan. Nevertheless, new breaches of county boundaries were considered necessary in Laois, Meath, Offaly, Roscommon and Tipperary while some breaches already in place by virtue of existing Dáil constituency boundaries have been retained.
Overall, the commission reported that it was satisfied, in the light of the constitutional requirements and its terms of reference, that the recommended constituencies meet the constitutional requirements from the point of view of equality of representation. The commission has recommended changes to constituencies in the following areas. It recommends that Dublin Central become a four-seat constituency, with four electoral divisions comprising a population of 12,394 transferred in from Dublin North-West and one electoral division with a population of 5,064 also being transferred in from Dublin Bay North. Dún Laoghaire is to be revised to include part of the electoral division of Glencullen, which has a population of 1,535, which will be taken from Dublin Rathdown. This would improve the balance between the variances in these two constituencies and would comprise the entire administrative area of the local council.
The commission recommends that the Cavan-Monaghan constituency be revised to include the 36 electoral divisions of County Cavan, comprising a total population of 13,150, that are currently in the existing Sligo-Leitrim constituency and that seven electoral divisions comprising a population of 3,973 be transferred from Meath East. This ensures that all of County Cavan will be included in the new Cavan-Monaghan constituency which will become a five-seat constituency.
Sligo-Leitrim is to have 18 electoral divisions, representing a total population of 7,806 transferred in from the north of County Roscommon, around Boyle and west of Carrick-on-Shannon, from the Roscommon-Galway constituency. Roscommon-Galway is to receive the transfer of a population of 8,650 from Galway East while Galway East itself is to be revised to include an additional population of 4,547 from Galway West. It is recommended that the Mayo constituency receive the transfer of the population of 4,893 from that part of County Mayo located in the existing Galway West constituency. This reduces the size of the county boundary breach in Mayo.
The Clare constituency is to be revised to include the electoral division of Ballyglass, which has a population of 5,994 and which is currently in the Limerick City constituency. This will restore the county boundary in Clare. The Tipperary constituency is to receive the transfer of 10,847 population from that part of Tipperary that is currently in the existing Offaly constituency. This will restore the county boundary in that part of Tipperary. However, a transfer of a population of 4,375 from three electoral divisions in Tipperary to Limerick City is recommended to avoid a high variance in the population to Member ratio in the Tipperary constituency. This will create a new county boundary breach in that area - around Newport as I understand it. It is recommended that the Limerick constituency receive the transfer of a population of 2,008 from Limerick City to address the high variance in the Limerick constituency area and to better balance the ratios between the two constituencies.
It is recommended that Laois and Offaly become a single five-seat constituency similar to the arrangements which were in place from 1923 to 2013. However, to avoid a high variance, a population of 11,854 will need to move to the Kildare South constituency. Kildare South is to become a four-seat constituency with the transfer of a population of 7,892 from that part of Kildare that is currently in the existing Laois constituency and a further 3,226 from the constituency of Kildare North. These transfers will ensure that there is no longer a breach to the Kildare county boundary.
It is recommended that Carlow-Kilkenny receive the transfer of the eight electoral divisions in Carlow, comprising a total population of 4,501, that are currently located in the existing Wicklow constituency, and which have been for the past 20 years. This will eliminate the breach of the Carlow county boundary and ensure that all of that county is now in the same constituency.
The commission was also required to report on the constituencies for the election of Members to the European Parliament. In its report the commission recommended maintaining the existing arrangement of constituencies for the election of Ireland’s 11 Members of the European Parliament and, therefore, I will not be bringing forward any amendments to the Third Schedule to the European Parliament Elections Act 1997 in which the constituencies for European Parliament elections and the number of Members to be elected for each constituency are specified. Should the number of members to be elected from Ireland change before the next elections to the European Parliament in June 2019, section 5(1A) of the Electoral Act 1997 provides that a committee can be established to make a report in respect of the European Parliament constituencies. This was done in 2013.
I will now outline the provisions of the Bill before us. It generally mirrors previous Bills providing for the revision of Dáil constituencies following a census of population. Section 1 provides for the definition of Minister and for particular references in the Schedule to the Bill. It is in the Schedule that the geography of each constituency is described or specified. Section 2 provides that once the Act is passed, there will be 160 Members in the next Dáil following its passage, that is to say, the Dáil elected after the dissolution of the current Dáil.
Section 3 provides for those 160 Members to represent the constituencies specified in the Schedule. There will be 39 constituencies of which 13 will have five seats, 17 will have four seats and nine will have three seats. Section 4 provides that each constituency shall return the number of Members specified in relation to it in the Schedule. Section 5 provides for the amendment of section 6(2)(a) of the Electoral Act 1997 to provide for the total number of Members of the Dáil to be no less than 166 and no more than 172 following the next review of Dáil constituencies. That would be due after census 2021. The maximum number that the Constituency Commission could recommend is 160 and that is what is provided for in the Bill. Having regard to projected increases in the population, it is likely that the limit of 160 Members provided for in the Electoral Act 1997 would not provide for the total number of Members to be within the constitutional limits at the next constituency review following census 2021.
Section 6 provides for the 2013 Act to be repealed on the dissolution of Dáil Éireann that next occurs after the passing of this Act. This effectively means that the existing constituencies continue in force until the next general election.
For example, the constituencies in the 2013 Act will be in force for the referendums and presidential election to be held in 2018 and for any Dáil by-elections held, unless there is a general election in the interim. Section 7 is a standard provision for the short title and collective citation.
The Bill continues the long-established practice of implementing the recommendations of independent constituency commissions in full and without amendment, which has been an important factor in supporting the independence of the review process. It is a matter for the Oireachtas to revise the constituencies and I look forward to the debate.
I commend the Bill to the House.