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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 12 Dec 2017

Vol. 963 No. 1

Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2017: Second Stage

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.

The Bill affects the constituency of Roscommon-Galway, which I am very privileged to represent. It also affects the constituencies of my colleagues, Deputies MacSharry and Rabbitte, with whom I am sharing time. I welcome the Bill but am unhappy with its implications for my constituency. As the Minister of State probably knows, north Roscommon is a very strong base for me. I feel sorry for the people of Keadue, Ballyfarnon and many other areas in that locality. I have no doubt that the two Fianna Fáil representatives for Sligo-Leitrim, Deputies MacSharry and Scanlon, will be delighted for that part of north Roscommon to be made part of their constituency and they will work for it. However, 7,800 voters have been left in no-man's land. I say that with no disrespect to the excellent representatives for Sligo-Leitrim. However, here we go again. That the Sligo-Leitrim constituency comprised Sligo, Leitrim and parts of Donegal and Cavan was absolutely ridiculous. The commission recognised that having that part of Cavan in the Sligo-Leitrim constituency was neither feasible nor good. However, it has taken a chunk from Roscommon and put it into Sligo-Leitrim and has given back Cavan. We have to get away from treating counties in this manner. It is not acceptable and, in the long term, Members will have to ensure that it is changed.

With no disrespect to the people who will be representing the area, north Roscommon has been gutted from top to bottom by the fish knife of the commission. It has been left in no man's land. It needs strong representation, which I have no doubt it will receive, but it is utterly unfair to do that to any community. Such changes have occurred throughout the country on many occasions. The population of County Roscommon is 64,000 but that of the Roscommon-Galway constituency is approximately 84,000 or 85,000, which is a little short of what is stipulated in the legislation. The House must devise a system to ensure that no county is treated in such a manner. It has been done too many times and I am not happy with what has been done in respect of north Roscommon.

There are great people coming to my constituency from the Galway East constituency, which is good Fianna Fáil country, and I welcome them. However, I am saddened for the people of north Roscommon, many of whom feel they have been left in no man's land and have had no respect shown to them. I have no doubt that in the future we will seek for Roscommon to become a one-county constituency once again.

I thank the Minister for his contribution. I take on board that he said to the effect that the long-established practice is for the Bill to be welcomed and accepted without amendment. That is not my style but I will not go against it. We will be supporting the Bill but it would be remiss of me not to speak on it. In a similar manner to Deputy Eugene Murphy or any of my colleagues who may speak on the Bill, I believe it lacks imagination. I made a submission on the Bill because I wanted to offer a little guidance on how not to butcher a county, which is what is being done to Galway. I represent Galway East and, under the Bill, will lose over 8,500 very good voters who substantially contributed to my being elected as a first-time Deputy. I am eternally grateful to them. With the help of God, Deputy Eugene Murphy will benefit from my hard work for them over the past 18 months, as I hope I will benefit from the work done by Deputy Ó Cuív for the 4,500 voters who are being transferred from Galway West.

On a serious note, I completely agree with what Deputy Eugene Murphy said regarding how the system should be amended such that counties can be kept intact. If I were to have sent out the Galway hurling team in the same manner as the electoral team is being sent out here, it would not have won the All-Ireland this year because it would have been representing counties Roscommon, Galway and Mayo.

Mayo and Roscommon are hurling strongholds.

It does not work at a local level. People feel somewhat disenfranchised as a result of what is being done.

As regards council boundaries, people will have different Deputies and councillors. There is much confusion in terms of who to support or who is one's representative. Although all Deputies will represent their constituents as best they can, county boundaries are important. Some 18 constituencies are untouched but Galway East has once again been badly affected. We supported and propped up Roscommon in 2011 and we are now giving it more of our good people and propping it up further. I do not understand why Galway East is to lose over 8,500 voters, as is Roscommon-Galway to Sligo-Leitrim, while 4,500 voters are to be transferred to Galway East from Galway West. That appears to be gerrymandering for the sake of it. There must be an easier way to redraw constituencies. I suggested that if the commission did not want to leave the constituencies of Mayo and Galway East as they were, then perhaps four seats should have been allocated to each. That may not have been the most popular measure but it would have kept the county intact, which is very important. County councillors also have concerns as to what will happen to council boundaries because they need to know how their bases will be affected and whether there will be a predominance of city voters or otherwise in their areas. From a rural perspective, a fair balance is needed. Fianna Fáil will be supporting the Bill and I will also reluctantly do so.

This is a shambles, as is the case every time a Bill of this nature is published. We are bound by Article 16 of the Constitution and the practice, which is a horrible word often used in the House, is that all Members will say that the Bill is great and accept it and on we go. Will the Minister of State, who I have known for a long time, be the pioneering Minister who facilitates a public consultation in the year ahead on how Article 16 could and should be amended to take cognisance of how the population of Ireland is currently constituted? There is no question that when the Constitution was written in 1937, the population of the country and the migratory patterns that have happened since could not have been envisaged. On foot of that and the failure to amend Article 16, the practice currently applied by the electoral commission, which does the best job it can in very difficult circumstances, is probably as good as it can be. However, the practice has become for the commission to look at where the population is, ensure a minimum of one Deputy per 30,000 people and then try to stuff together whatever voters are left over. It could happen in the Minister of State's constituency. Piltown and Fiddown could be put in with another part of Waterford or Carrick-on-Suir in south Tipperary. That is the kind of thing that could happen. We now have hybrid constituencies such as my own, which is more akin to a constituency for the 1984 European Parliament election than a modern Dáil constituency. People are being disenfranchised. That is not to say that any Deputy would not be exceptionally proud to represent all people, regardless of whether they live in Boyle, Sligo, Donegal or anywhere else.

The fact is that Article 16 of the Constitution is not fit for purpose. We need a constitutional referendum. I am not saying I have the solution, but we need to find a different way. In 30 years' time, no matter who is sitting in these seats, we will have 120 Deputies representing the greater Dublin conurbation from Wexford to Dundalk and a sprinkling of 40 or 45 Deputies representing the rest of the country, which is not on, and at some stage some Minister will suggest considering the matter. I, therefore, ask the Minister of State for a public consultation on this. It would not cost very much. Let us see what innovative, creative ideas are out there that could take cognisance of the fact that we need representation of all parts of Ireland. We can then have a constitutional referendum on Article 16 and make the necessary improvements.

Regarding the naming of constituencies, and I know there are some proposed amendments in this regard, but to add insult to injury, what are the people of south Donegal or south Roscommon to think when their constituency is called Sligo-Leitrim? The people of west Cavan were rightly indignant that they were moved into that constituency. It was joked around these Houses that some Deputies and Senators from that part of the country would erect signs stating "Welcome to Sligo-Leitrim" in Virginia. Such decisions are an insult to people. If there must be long constituency names in this flawed process, call the constituency South Donegal, Sligo-Leitrim and North Roscommon, because that is what it is. Give people the dignity of acknowledging the place where they live.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to make a few points. I genuinely believe that if we want to prepare a proper vision for the generations that will come to these Houses in the future, we need to reform and have a constitutional referendum on Article 16.

I welcome this report. I did not welcome the previous one and I was vociferous in my objections to it. I was probably one of the few Deputies to have a right go at the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan's, former colleague, Commissioner Hogan, on Second Stage of the Bill before the House at that time. It was absolutely ludicrous, as my colleague, Deputy MacSharry, said, that parts of west and south Cavan were moved into constituencies with Sligo, Leitrim and south Donegal. If I had to opt to stay in that constituency, rather than in the reduced Cavan-Monaghan constituency, and if I was going to that part of south Donegal that was put in with Cavan, I would travel into and out of Northern Ireland twice, back into the Republic, to get to Donegal. That shows how ludicrous it was, and it was a little like the tourism signs that say,"Welcome to Ireland's Ancient East", which are in Waterford as well as west Cavan.

They should not be in Cavan.

We in this House should be cognisant of the fact that the people on this commission have never got a vote in their lives. I honestly believe that former practising politicians should sit on the commission. There is no point in saying nowadays that east Cavan or west Cavan is a great Fianna Fáil area, a great Fine Gael area or a great Sinn Féin area. That is gone now because we know from the results of recent elections that things have changed dramatically. A good case could be made for very distinguished former Members of this House from the main parties as well as Independents serving on the commission. If there had been a former practising politician on the commission in 2012, he or she would never have signed off on the configuration of south Donegal, all of Sligo-Leitrim and west and south Cavan. My colleagues, Deputies Eugene Murphy, Rabbitte and MacSharry made the point in the part of the debate that I have heard that it is a total injustice to so many communities. I am very happy that all of Cavan is back with all of County Monaghan. We have seven electoral divisions coming in from the Meath East constituency, and the people living in those electoral divisions are quite rightly very unhappy. We fully understand that and while the commission had to consider things in general, it did not need to move the people in east Meath into Cavan. I think there was a wrong reading of the tolerance level.

I made a detailed submission to the commission at the time. This time last year, I was preparing it and, unfortunately, one of my best friends in politics, Brendan Reilly from Ballyjamesduff, who did much of the drafting of my submission, specifically the work on the figures and so on, was killed two weeks ago in a car accident. He was a great and very close friend of mine, and I wish to record the contribution he made to the submission that I submitted to the commission at the time.

Article 16.2.2° of the Constitution sets out that "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." Of Article 16.2.2°, the submission states:

This gives the Commission some scope to give adequate and due tolerance to recognise the particular pressures on rural constituencies vis-à-vis representation and adherence to the population per Dáil Member. The present Cavan/Monaghan constituency [as it is at present] is a totally rural region, yet it is 3.18% above the average ratio. [The constituencies that were meant to be above the average ratio were the urban constituencies, not the very rural constituencies.] This is leaving an area with very specific social and economic problems both underrepresented and badly divided.

The 5% deviation from the national average is only implied and is by no means set in stone.

Greater latitude in deviating from the national average, as established by previous Commissions prior to the 2012 Commission, would give the necessary flexibility to reverse the extreme impact of the 2012 revision where [unexpectedly] four counties ended up in the one constituency[, the first time ever in the history of the State this has happened]. From the Commission's own Statement on Relevant Provisions - while the reference to Justice Clarke's judgement leans towards a deviation from the national average lower than 5%, - it is important to note that the Supreme Court clearly studiously avoids setting any such limit and ruled as quoted in the Commission's statement:

The problem of what is practicable is primarily one for the Oireachtas, whose members have knowledge of the problems and difficulties to be solved which this Court cannot have. Its decision could not be reviewed by this Court unless there is a manifest infringement of the Article. This Court cannot, as is suggested, lay down a figure above or below which a variation from what is called the national average is not permitted.

Commissions in the past allowed a deviation of approximately 5%. It is provided for in the Constitution. I urge the Minister of State to change this, as my colleague, Deputy MacSharry said, in order that we do not disenfranchise large parts of rural communities.

Deputy Thomas Byrne has three and a half minutes.

I will use two minutes of the slot and give the rest to Deputy Scanlon.

I will not argue about what the commission has done in this case. I accept that we have an independent commission, although I do not particularly like it. My constituents in north Meath and east Meath do not particularly like it. The Meath East constituency has been carved out on two occasions at this stage, and people feel disenfranchised and put into areas within which they do not naturally fall. This is particularly the case in east Meath. They feel very left out, and now the people of Drumcondra, Meath Hill, Posseckstown, Carrickleck, Teevurcher and Cormeen will feel left out in Cavan-Monaghan. I have no doubt about that.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank sincerely the people, the entire constituency, who have voted for me in previous elections, particularly in this area. I have developed a very special relationship with the people in north County Meath as a Teachta Dála. They have been very good to me, and I hope I have been good to them and served them in the way in which they want me to do so. Obviously, I continue to be one of the Deputies for that entire constituency until the next election. This boundary commission does not change our current representation or our current representative function. My constituents are very good, decent, hard-working people and have always been my friend, and I hope I have been their friend. I am still their Teachta Dála, and boundary changes will not change that. We must change the way we do these things. It is not fair to lump, people into different constituencies simply for the sake of maths. Yes, it is one person, one vote, but we also need people to have some connection with their representatives.

I now call on another happy man, Deputy Scanlon.

I recognise the trust that the people in different areas have put in us as politicians. It was 65 miles from where I live to the Cavan area which I try to represent. I thank those people for the support they gave me, considering that I was in a very marginal seat and that there were 18 candidates on the ticket. I saw 13th, 14th and 15th preferences coming in as effective No. 1 votes. Without those people, I would not be here today, and I thank them for that.

I agree with previous speakers. When one considers Cavan, south Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim, we are talking about two provinces, never mind different counties, which is totally ridiculous and quite unfair, and it is very wrong that county boundaries are broken.

It has been the case for the past 30 or 40 years, or as long as I can remember in politics, that Sligo and Leitrim were combined into one constituency. That is acceptable because we are similar types of people living in adjoining counties. However, it is very wrong when portions of other counties are brought in or where a county is split. If Sligo-Leitrim must be a three-seat constituency, so be it. Let the best man fight the election and win. On this occasion, however, north Roscommon is to be brought into the constituency. I will do whatever I can to help those constituents. In fairness to colleagues on all sides, all Members in this House do the best they can for the people they represent. I will do my absolute best to help and support the people of north Roscommon. However, when boundaries are being drawn up in future, I hope county boundaries will be respected.

There is something a little incongruous about our debating and voting on this legislation in so far as none of us, as elected politicians, can claim complete objectivity when it comes to the redrawing of constituencies. That is not to take away from the legitimacy of the points raised by colleagues. We absolutely have a right to debate the legislation underpinning the establishment of electoral commissions and we certainly should scrutinise their reports to determine whether they adhere to the terms of reference. However, we must be careful about getting into discussions as to whether we agree with and accept the commission's recommendations, because those recommendations may have a direct bearing on how easy or difficult it is for us to get elected on the next occasion.

There is a very difficult balance for any commission to achieve in terms of getting the ratios right, respecting existing county, local authority and community boundaries and getting the urban-rural balance correct. I do not envy the commission members in tackling any of those matters. If the issues Deputies have raised had not been addressed in they way they were, there would be another group of Deputies complaining about the alternative solution. This is not easy work and I acknowledge the efforts of the commission in preparing the report.

While my constituency is not affected on this occasion, a previous local government boundary review brought about some changes on its periphery. While they had no negative impact on my election bid, having spoken to people living in rural Brittas and Saggart, on the divide between the local electoral area, LEA, and the general election boundary, many felt that their local councillors were not necessarily serving them because they were in a neighbouring general election constituency and their Deputies were not necessarily serving them because they are in a neighbouring LEA. These are genuine concerns and I am not arguing that we should be discounted from raising them.

While it is not pertinent to the legislation before us, I would be open to a consultation on or review of the constitutional limit. However, any such exercise would have to be based on the need to achieve a better balance between the different components of the process, not making it easier for sitting politicians to secure their re-election. I do not in any way suggest that Members who referred to the constitutional limit did so for anything other than genuine purposes. However, for the public to have faith in such a process, we must make that very clear.

Sinn Féin is joining other groups in supporting the Bill. It would be wrong for the Oireachtas to set about amending the commission's recommendations. As I said, if Members wish to change the process for determining boundaries, whether in respect of the constitutional limit or the way the terms of reference are set for the commission membership, that is a legitimate matter for us to debate. Today, however, we have a set of recommendations from an independent commission and the right thing to do, notwithstanding the individual difficulties for some of us arising out of those recommendations, is to support them.

Constituencies with a larger number of seats are more representative because they afford a greater representation of the political views of constituents. While larger parties often prefer constituencies to have a smaller number of seats and Independents and smaller parties usually prefer a larger number, the more important consideration is that having a larger number usually gives a better reflection of the diversity of opinion within the constituency. In future, therefore, we should look to having more constituencies with a larger number of seats, purely for the representational and proportionate balance they offer.

There is strong merit in having a standing independent electoral office similar to that which operates in the North so that we do not have to establish ad hoc commissions after every census. There are obvious benefits in having a proper, professional body whose job is not only to maintain a rolling review of constituencies, boundaries and seat numbers but also to deal with issues of electoral registration, centralisation and scrutiny of the register and so on. A body like that would develop experience over time and might include former politicians or former Oireachtas staff among its membership. I urge the Government to look at this issue in a more rounded way in the future.

To reiterate, I respect the views expressed by Members this evening. However, having set up an independent commission, agreed its terms of reference and let it do its job, we should not necessarily engage in criticism of its decisions, although some of them are difficult for voters and communities in our constituencies or for individual Deputies. We should acknowledge the commission's achievement in doing the job we tasked it do and we should support the report it has produced. For the future, rather than waiting for the next report, we should set about, possibly on an appropriate cross-party basis, finding a way of ensuring the process for setting electoral boundaries is improved in order that we no longer encounter the difficulties colleagues have articulated today.

The constituency I represent will be changed again as a consequence of the commission's report. I support the proposal by my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, that we should consider establishing a permanent electoral commission or office to deal with matters concerning the organisation of elections and the changes in constituency boundaries.

Colleagues will have noticed that a map drawn up by Ordnance Survey Ireland was included along with copies of the commission's report. I was puzzled when I noticed that right beside Donegal on the map is the word "London" followed by the word "Derry". I understood that London is a city of some 10 million people on an offshore island. In fact, I was there earlier this year at a relative's wedding. I was concerned at how that city had somehow made its way across the Irish Sea and landed up somewhere beside Lough Foyle. I take this opportunity to bring to the attention of staff in Ordnance Survey Ireland that the proper name of the city denoted, the last time I was in it, is Derry or, as Gaeilge, Doire Cholmcille. It is additionally troubling that the map includes the strap line: "Ordnance Survey Ireland map, Government of Ireland 2017".

The information on Northern Ireland is taken from the mapping service in that jurisdiction.

The people of Derry sought to change the name of their city a long time ago. Will the Minister of State and his officials to bring this error to the attention of Ordnance Survey Ireland and to advise that we should no longer slavishly use that type of colonial language?

The commission's report is advisory, it being thereafter a matter for the Oireachtas to settle these matters, in accordance with the commission's terms of reference. Section 6(2)(f) of the Electoral Act 1997 states "Subject to the provisions of this section, the Commission shall endeavour to maintain continuity in relation to the arrangements of constituencies". In the case of Laois, Offaly and Kildare South, however, that is not the case. Laois-Offaly was the same constituency from 1923 to 2016, with Laurence Brady being the last Sinn Féin Deputy to be elected before I took my seat in February 2011. I thank the people of Laois-Offaly for electing me to what was then a five-seat constituency. In 2012, we received a report like the one we are discussing today indicating that the boundaries would be changed to create a three-seat constituency of Laois, which, in order to have an adequate population, would include a chunk of Kildare South, comprising Monasterevin, Kilberry and Kildangan. The view at the time was that I was unlikely to be returned at the next election, but the good people of Monasterevin, Kilberry and Kildangan gave me a good vote, having worked hard for them in the previous two years. I will continue to represent them until the end of the Thirty-second Dáil. In fact, I have a small office in Monasterevin and although the people there will not be able to vote for me again, I have a duty to continue to represent them.

It is fair enough that Monasterevin, Kilberry and Kildangan are to be returned to Kildare South.

There is, however, also a large chunk coming out of Laois and a small bite coming out of Offaly. Some 9,450 people from Laois and 2,404 people from Offaly will go in to make up the new Kildare South constituency, which will be a four seater. That was a three seater. There will be pieces of three counties going to make up one constituency in the bottom half of Kildare.

I understand that sometimes a county boundary has to be broken. We argued this with the Minister of State's predecessor, the former Minister, Phil Hogan. In fact, if I remember correctly, we had arguments about a good few things. Sometimes we agreed on some issues, especially on the boundary of Graiguecullen, an issue that went on for years. Deputy Pat Deering will be familiar with it. Phil Hogan was the one man who did make the change, which I had raised with him in the Dáil, to align the county council boundary in Graiguecullen with the general election boundary, with the GAA boundary and with the county boundary. It is one of the good things the then Minister achieved in that Dáil and I give him credit for it. It was the sensible thing to do.

Moving on to where we are now, as things stand and without the changes, the report states: "While Laois and Kildare constituencies have acceptable variations, it is necessary to alter these to address the high variances in the Offaly constituency." In the last census, Offaly had a population of 77,961 and County Laois had a population of 84,697, and it is growing by the day. Laois is a fast-growing county. The national average of population per Deputy is 29,762. There were better options and there is a problem because not only is the proposal breaking into two counties, but it is also breaching a small area, Gracefield, with a small chunk coming out of east Offaly and into Kildare South. A very large chunk is also being taken out of Laois, with all of Portarlington, Killenard, Ballybrittas and Jamestown going in with Kildare.

Turning to what could have happened, a small piece could have been taken out of Tipperary. According to the report, the Laois and Kildare numbers were fine but the problem was with Offaly, which needed some more population. That part of north Tipperary with which people were connected since the last boundary change could have been left with Offaly. A piece of Westmeath or County Meath could also have come into the north of Offaly, as could the piece of east Kildare where the boundary was already moved. Any of those options could have given Offaly sufficient population to retain three seats and would have meant breaching only one county boundary, not two.

As Deputy Ó Broin said, I understand that the commission does not have an easy job. Every action it takes has a knock-on consequence. We know that most actions have knock-on consequences as when we move one piece of a jigsaw. I can see that, but I have looked at it and there were a number of other options. I am trying to be impartial here, but, being a Deputy, it is hard. One can imagine what it is like to be elected to Laois-Offaly, when one feels one is doing grand, getting to know the people of Offaly and doing the clinics. The next thing one discovers they are gone and one has to keep representing them. I kept representing those people right up to the finish of the Thirty-first Dáil in February 2016. Having had a greater base in Kildare South, I now find myself losing the Kildare South constituency, although I will continue to represent the people there. I now have to go back to Laois-Offaly again.

The consequence of this boundary change is three different constituencies in five years and two county boundaries having changed. I have another consequence for the Minister of State - Kildare has an absolute guarantee of eight Deputies after the next election. It will be four and four, but what is Laois guaranteed? Kildare has a population of some 220,000 but Laois will have a population of almost 90,000 by the next election. Laois is growing faster than Kildare for a number of reasons, which I will not go into here, according to the last two censuses. Laois could possibly wind up with only two Deputies after the next election, with a population of 90,000, whereas neighbouring Kildare, with a population of 220,000, will wind up with an absolute guarantee of eight Deputies. The Deputies who are elected to Kildare South, such as Deputy Fiona MacLoughlin if she is lucky to be elected-----

It is O'Loughlin, Deputy Stanley.

She is going to have to deal with three county councils - Kildare County Council; Laois County Council and Offaly County Council. She will need to attend three Oireachtas Members' meetings between the local authority managers and directors of services. She will have to deal with three different administrative staff and three different electoral areas. God help her because that is going to be hard to do. The boundary change is taking pieces of three counties to make one constituency.

My last point concerns voter turnout. In the last election, voter turnout in Laois was just over 39,000 of a 62,000 population. That was a 60% to 61% turnout. It was slightly higher, at 62%, in Offaly. That is small and it is not good for democracy in any man's book, or any woman's book either. We need to try to increase the turnout in elections. The public in Portarlington, Killenard and Ballybrittas in north Laois are now told they are Lillywhites and that somehow they belong to Kildare, and they are not too happy about it. Many of them are very annoyed and say that they will not vote because they are being tied in with Kildare against their will. Obviously, I would encourage people to vote, even if they cannot vote for me, as they should always use their votes.

Their county councils, however, will continue to be Laois in the case of that part of north Laois, and the Gracefield end of Portarlington will continue to under Offaly County Council. The natural hinterland of Portlaoise is Portarlington, Killenard, Ballybrittas and Jamestown, which is eight or nine miles away. The natural hinterland is not Naas, which is within a few minutes of Dublin. Laois in particular has been chopped away as if with a blunt axe. The commission should have paid more attention to breaching county boundaries. I understand that one might need to be breached, but the problem is that two county boundaries have been breached. Whoever represents the people within those areas is going to have to deal with three county councils.

There were other options, which I believe were better options. I do not want to complain too much about it but a better fit could have been achieved, especially for the people of north Laois. Laois could have been left intact. It could have enough population by the day of the next election for three seats, if we were able to sit tight for the rest of this year. If we get through most of 2018, the population of Laois will be more than adequate. Currently, it is constitutionally more than adequate to provide for three Deputies. There was no need for a boundary change on a constitutional basis and it is a pity.

Some of the other changes have been good. As I said earlier, we need to set up a standing electoral commission or an electoral office to ensure there is an ongoing independent body in place that can develop the expertise and take submissions from people. That is my view of it. I am not saying this for my own sake - I also said this in the last Dáil, when there was no breach of two county boundaries that affected me. It is, however, a bad day's work when three parts of three counties are needed to make up an electoral district. It is a bad day's work that Laois may only have two Deputies but County Kildare is guaranteed eight.

I thank the people of Laois-Offaly who, in 2011, elected me to represent them. I also thank the people of south Kildare, especially in the Monasterevin, Kilberry and Kildangan area, for electing me the last time out to the three-seater constituency of Laois-Kildare South.

Like other Deputies, the Labour Party will not be opposing the recommendations, as is the tradition. We will support the recommendations of the independent commission. I also support the idea of having a standing commission, as suggested by Deputies Ó Broin and Stanley. It would make a lot of sense.

Having listened to Deputy Stanley and the Fianna Fáil Deputies, one must ask where does one start. As the man said when he was asked for directions, "I would not start from here if I were you". When one starts somewhere, however, it ends up having a knock-on effect on the neighbouring constituencies. That is just the way it works. We all understand the difficulty of interpreting the Constitution and the work done by the commission. We should commend the commission on the work it has done. We must deal with the consequences that arise for the various constituencies around the State. The relevant part of the Constitution is Article 16.2 which states:

16.2 (2) 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.

16.2 (3) 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 same throughout the country.

It is about fair representation and ensuring, in so far as possible, that the county boundaries are not breached, although they have been in several cases.

Deputy MacSharry made the point that if we continue on like this and do not change the Constitution, we will end up with more than 100 Deputies for Dublin. A national planning framework is currently in consultation. It behoves us to ensure that Deputy MacSharry's scenario does not happen and we can achieve that by ensuring that we have a proper regional balance and that we rebalance the country, which is over-dependent on the east coast in respect of population, jobs and many other things. We have to build up the rest of the country and that includes ensuring that other cities and large centres of population grow in size. The current draft national planning framework does not go far enough to achieve that. I have put in a submission on my city of Limerick, as well as a submission on behalf of the Labour Party at a national level, urging that we get real action to ensure we get such population balance. There are many consequences of failing to do so, one being that we would have a large number of Deputies around the Dublin area and much fewer in the rest of the country. I do not want to see that appalling vista. The national framework strategy has a significant role to play in ensuring that the country is properly represented and it is very much linked to what we are debating this evening.

On the constitutional requirements, I wish to briefly defend my colleague, Joe Costello. When there was a threat of an election - it seems like a while ago but it is only recently - he went to the High Court on the basis of his belief that if the election went ahead before Christmas, prior to this legislation being passed, it would have breached the constitutional requirements. Based on the two sections which I read out, I believe he was correct, although I would not second guess the courts. Mr. Costello's senior counsel noted:

arising from the 2016 census and the 2017 Constituency Commission report, the next Dáil must have more members than the current Dáil to stay within the rules as set by Article 16.2.2... The next Dáil must have at least 159 members to comply with article 16.2.2 and the commission has recommended that the next Dáil have 160 ... If an election is held it would return 158 TDs which would breach article 16.2.2 which creates a mandatory obligation not to breach the limits ... An election would mean three TDs being returned for Mr. Costello's Dublin Central Constituency, when that should be four. The kind of issue which was raised in the case has never previously arisen ... Unless the legislation was introduced urgently the next Dáil could have its constitution and authority questioned ... The situation required to be immediately addressed but while there was a Bill in draft stage to act on the commission's recommendations, that had not been put before Cabinet.

Thankfully we will deal with this Bill this week and I presume that the Seanad will also be able to deal with it before Christmas -----

----- and hopefully we will not have an election too early in the new year.

Even in the McGrath and Murphy case of 2007 which the Minister of State quoted, there was a reference to an urgent burden on the Oireachtas following the census. It is quite a significant argument but one which happily has now passed us by.

I have tabled an amendment and Deputies Cowen and Breathnach have tabled amendments that are very similar to mine. In none of those amendments do we question the commission's decisions regarding boundaries and representation but we are questioning the names of the constituencies. Deputy Thomas Byrne referred to how the Louth constituency takes in a significant portion of east Meath but does not name it. There are smaller parts of other constituencies that have also been brought in and not named, but in that area there was concern among the people in the coastal area of Meath that they were not part of the constituency name. We are not questioning the substance of what the commission is recommending but I would like to know who decides the names.

It is the commission.

Names were changed in the Dublin area and there was the case I just mentioned in Louth. I presume it is the commission itself but on what basis? Is it arbitrary? Why does it decide to change names or have particular names for particular constituencies? It is something on which public representatives possibly should have some role because we know our constituencies and people do get upset when their constituency name changes.

My next remarks are somewhat similar to those raised by others. My constituency is losing a part of Clare which we had, gaining a piece of Tipperary and we are giving back to County Limerick part of east Limerick which we have had and it had before us. It is a case of "I stepped out and I stepped in again". I particularly feel for people in those types of constituencies who might have moved three or four times in the last 20 years, or a relatively short time. The Cappamore area and its neighbouring parishes in County Limerick is the area particularly affected in my constituency. I have represented them in the past, then not represented them, then represented them and then not represented them, and I have not been in this House for an especially long time. It is particularly difficult for people in those areas whose constituency keeps moving because they are they easiest to move when numbers change.

I also support the idea of there being fewer three-seat constituencies. It is better to have a broader type of representation in order that most people can see somebody in the Oireachtas who represents their point of view. It is right that we have larger constituencies with more individuals representing them.

Like others, I was very pleased to represent a piece of County Clare. Part of it is in the parish where I live; it is literally the other side of the bridge over the River Shannon from my home, and I will continue to represent those people until there is an election. I know many of them very well. I will continue to hold my constituency clinic in the area. There are areas such as Shannon Banks, Westbury, Parteen and part of Ardnacrusha, which are very close to Limerick city. I appreciate that Clare has got itself back together as a county and I can understand why this is happening.

Deputy Stanley just referred to the northern part of Tipperary coming back into Tipperary but the piece nearest to us is coming into Limerick which would be the Newport-Birdhill area. I would be happy to represent the people in that area and give a continuity of service that had previously been given by Labour Deputies, the most recent one being Deputy Kelly. There is some dissatisfaction that people who have always been represented in a Tipperary constituency are now coming into the Limerick city constituency but we will do our best to represent them.

Ideally we would like to see county boundaries unbreached but we are bound by the Constitution, as is the commission. We have to accept that it has to do its best in drawing boundaries. I am more concerned for the people in those areas than their public representatives. We will get on with doing our job as best we can, but there is confusion for people living in areas who find themselves moved from one constituency to another. To return to the national planning framework, what we would like to see is that there would be an effort to stabilise populations and not have migration from the more rural, western parts of the country to the east coast. During discussions on the national planning framework, it emerged that Maynooth is the centre of Ireland by population, because there are roughly as many people living east of Maynooth as there are to its west, although in geographical terms it is nowhere near the centre of Ireland. It is an indication that we need to see national planning work towards a more balanced country which would be better for everyone. We will not oppose this.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on the Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2017.

This Bill will provide for the implementation of the Constituency Commission Report 2017, the recommendations of which include increasing the number of Deputies from 158 to 160 and reducing the number of constituencies to 39. I am in sympathy with previous speakers who referred to parts of constituencies moving back and forth. In most of my time in this House, my constituency has moved north and south, though it cannot move east because of the sea. Since the 1980s, we have not had an election in which the constituency remained the same. I am also sympathetic to the people in the areas affected. In my case, the Raheny and Edenmore parishes have gone back and forth between constituencies, though they had an advantage in that there would have been up to eight Deputies in the historical Dublin North-East and Dublin North-West constituencies, which were joined together to form Dublin Bay North. The Deputies in question would have represented parts of the two parishes to which I refer. At the prospect of a pre-Christmas general election, my former colleague, Joe Costello, took a case to the High Court claiming that such an election would be unconstitutional given that constituency changes had not taken place. Happily, that election did not materialise and we are dealing with the changes tonight.

The decision by the Kenny-Gilmore Government to reduce the number of Deputies in the Dáil from 166 to 158 was a typically ill-considered and short-term action from those two politicians and a bad mistake for Irish democracy. In the cut and thrust of constituency and Dáil electoral politics, the 158 serving Deputies are generally good value for their constituents. I have always believed in a larger Dáil- with, perhaps, 180 Members - rather than a smaller one. There could be 20 five-seaters and 20 four-seaters and there could even be bigger constituencies. There is an issue with bigger constituencies, however, with which all of us, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle included, have lived for some time. In Dublin Bay North, there are 152,000 people and 58,000 households, which we have to visit each quarter with our reports to constituents. It is a huge task because, unlike constituencies outside Dublin, anyone in our constituency can ask us to move a representation on his or her behalf. This means that we represent constituencies that are perhaps twice or even three times the size of a Westminster constituency, which is strange in light of the population of England.

While every Seanad usually has a few good representatives and performers, from my early months in this House - when I visited with schoolchildren and young people from Dublin north east - I have always believed that the Upper House should be abolished, with the savings going to strong local government led by directly-elected executive mayors, especially in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. The Kenny-Gilmore Government decided on a policy of abolishing the Seanad but refused to mount any significant campaign to achieve that objective. Senator Michael McDowell and others talk of reforming the Seanad by giving it a popular mandate but Ireland does not need two Dáileanna, especially in light of the work of the Constitutional Convention and the growing part played by referenda. The people should constitute our second House and we should come back to the agenda of an enhanced Dáil, as a single House, as is the case in New Zealand, Denmark and other countries that have changed from bicameral to unicameral systems.

The Minister is bringing a position paper to Cabinet relating to directly-elected executive mayors. I would warmly welcome this because it has been a constant theme among people with whom I entered politics, especially in the case of the greater Dublin region but also in respect of the greater Cork region in light of the changes being made to Cork in order to make it a leading European-sized second city. I hope the Minister's plans will take shape in time for the 2019 elections and that there will be new executives by that time. I have felt for some years that the housing situation is just not being dealt with in the context of the four Dublin counties and we need an overall executive to be able to address such issues. We have seen the success of these positions and of executives and cabinets in London, Liverpool and Manchester, our great neighbouring cities across the sea, each of which now has a person who can speak for it.

I made a submission to the Constituency Commission in January as part of its consultation process in the wake of the results of census 2016. I agreed with the increase of two in the overall number of Deputies and called for them to be given to the Dublin and Leinster region, particularly as the population of the latter is heading for 3 million. The region should be properly represented in this House. I also indicated that my first preference would be to return to the previous constituency boundaries relating to Dublin North-East, with Portmarnock, Balgriffin and Kinsealy once again included, and the restoration of the three-seat model. I also proposed that Dublin North Central should be reconstituted as a three-seat constituency, with any necessary additional territory and population returning from the Santry and lower Fairview-North Strand areas. It would be right to have six Deputies for that huge population covering 35 or 40 parishes. My second preference was to leave Dublin Bay North alone and not to lose any territory or population, because the communities and parishes of the constituency have very close social, economic and cultural affinity and civic and political groups and organisations are just beginning to get used to the merged constituency. There is work for six or even seven Deputies there and one could say the same for Laois-Offaly and other constituencies. Increased representation should have been the way forward, rather than what happened under the previous Government.

The Schedule sets out the list of constituencies. Dublin Bay North, which I am proud to represent, is remaining as a five-seat constituency, with some boundary changes. If the Bill is approved, it will mean that the electoral division of Drumcondra south, comprising 5,000 people, will be transferred out of my constituency and into Dublin Central. Having represented a constituency which has changed after every electoral commission, I will continue my usual practice of representing the area that elected me right up to the next general election, which includes Drumcondra south in this case.

Dublin Bay North has a population of 152,943, meaning there are 30,589 citizens per Deputy, which is the basis of the rationale in the report for the reduction of 5,000. North and west Dublin are under-represented and, given the major changes planned in construction and development over the coming years, I have consistently raised the importance of collaborative development on the north fringe of Dublin city and the adjoining south fringe of Fingal county and stressed the need for close co-operation between both local authorities in these areas. A colleague spoke earlier of representing three county councils or three major local authorities and I appreciate the enormous amount of work that goes into that. The north fringe spans a territory from Clonshaugh and Belcamp across to Burnell, Belmayne and Clongriffin and on to Baldoyle and south Portmarnock on the coast. The population is growing and, at long last, construction has begun. As I said to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government a few weeks ago, however, we are laying foundation stones rather than delivering homes for our young population.

Were it not for the crash, we would have had by now a thriving new district in an area that has been lacking in basic infrastructure and resources for the many families who live there. In my submission to the commission, I noted that the division of the region locally between Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council has created problems, month after month and year after year, for the coherent and sustainable development of the new city region.

I highlighted the importance of local Oireachtas representation invigilating those matters and that the best method to do so would be in one constituency to ensure better accountability for the development of the region.

Deputy Cowen has submitted an amendment asking that Dublin Bay North and Dublin Bay South go back to being called Dublin North-East and Dublin South-East. Dublin North-East had been a constituency since the mid-1930s, when it covered roughly the same territory as it does now. When it became more populated it became two constituencies, Dublin North-East and Dublin North-Central. It is an interesting proposal, but the population and civic society have got used to the acronym DBN for Dublin Bay North. The general feeling is that maybe we should leave the name of the constituency alone because it expresses the huge affinity we have with the ocean and the bay, with special amenity areas on Bull Island and in Howth and throughout the constituency. I am easy on it, but my preference is to leave Dublin Bay North with its name, which the commission in the 2011 Parliament came up with.

In general terms I welcome the fact the Dáil is expanding. I would have expanded it much more, with the concomitant impact of having it as a single powerful unicameral Chamber but making sure people on the ground were really well represented with sufficient Deputies. As it is, I will support the commission's report, even with the loss of south Drumcondra.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I am glad the constituency of Kerry has remained a five seater with 147,000 people to represent. There are a couple of discrepancies in relation to Rathmore, where part of the parish is on the Cork side, and it would be great if we could get it returned to us as it was taken from us. This comprises six townlands, namely, Rathduane, Knocknaloman, Carrigaline, Nohoval, Caherbarnagh and Hollymount. It is the same story in Ballydesmond. Whatever happened there, more than half of it is in Kerry and we would like the other townlands, including Carriganes, Upper and Lower Glencollins, Tooreenduff, Foyle, Camper and Glenreagh to be returned to their rightful place in the county of Kerry.

What about your colleague behind you?

My colleague behind me, Deputy Michael Collins, is very lucky for the present because Berehaven, Ardgroom, Eyeries, Dursey Island, Allihies and Cahermore on the brink of the Atlantic Ocean were part of the Kerry constituency previously. We would have no bother in representing those people if they came back to us, and a lot of them are anxious to come back to us.

The constituency of Kerry is vast. We have three peninsulas, namely, Beara, Iveragh and the Dingle Peninsula. One could say we are nearly surrounded on three sides by water, as at the top of the constituency, along Tarbert and Ballybunion, the Shannon divides us from Clare. I have to say that Kerry is the best county in the country. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae and I are thankful to the people of Kerry because the constituency would not be much good without its people. We are very thankful to the people of Kerry for electing us to represent them, and we hope they will do the same in the next general election.

Without a shadow of doubt, back over the history pages, we have had the best footballers and we have had a lot of fine hurlers as well. Hostelries, restaurants and hotels provide accommodation for half the world when they come at times to places such as Killarney-----

They have to go through Kildare to get there.

-----Killorglin, Caherciveen, Dingle, Tarbert and Ballybunion and all of those lovely places. It is the finest place and it is well able to accommodate everyone that comes. Whether they come from Hong Kong, Texas or wherever, they are all wonderfully looked after by the mighty people of Kerry.

If there is an oil strike, or if anything like that happens outside of our control, we have plenty of fine bogs and plenty of turf and we will keep ourselves warm for a long time provided these fellows with other ideas do not stop us from cutting the turf. It will take a fair effort to stop us from cutting the turf, and anyone who tries will get a rude awakening if they land with any type of army to stop us because we will put up massive resistance. We have been doing it for years and we will continue to do it.

I thank the people of Kerry. There are no better people than the people of Kerry. I wish them a very happy Christmas and a prosperous new year. I hope they will all come out and support myself and Deputy Michael Healy-Rae in the next general election because we are doing our level best to represent them. Everyone knows we are here on their behalf and we will continue to fight hard for what the people of rural Ireland and Kerry need, and we will make no apologies to anyone here, there or anywhere for doing it.

I am very grateful to be able to speak in this debate. It is very important and it is of great concern to us. I would like to make a point before I start talking about Deputies, which is that while Members of this House might be inclined to think of ourselves, there is a very great group of people I want to talk about when we speak about electoral boundaries, and that is our county councillors. Our county council, which I believe to be one of the finest in the Western world, is Kerry County Council. I speak of all of the councillors we have on Kerry County Council at present, but Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and I are very proud of how Councillors Maura Healy-Rae and Johnny Healy-Rae are working and they continue to do great work on our local authority.

Our councillors have an awful job of work in regard to the electoral areas they represent. For instance, Councillor Johnny Healy-Rae, my nephew, covers from Cuhig to Lauragh and all around it and then up through Kenmare, back down into Sneem, over into mid-Kerry, back into Dingle and back out to Ventry and Ballyferriter. It is a massive electoral area for any councillor to represent. He is doing it in an excellent fashion, and I am very glad and proud of the way he is doing his work, as I am proud of all of the other people, whoever they are, be they Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin or whoever. Our county councillors do a great job of work. A lot of the time it goes unrecorded and under the radar. They do not get thanked enough for it. They are not looking for thanks but I appreciate the work our councillors are doing.

They are on the go day and night, holding their clinics, serving their constituents and attending electoral area meetings, county council meetings and all the other functions involved.

Everybody knows my feelings about the abolition of the town councils. It was wrong. If it was attempted now instead of then there would be no hope in the world that it would pass. The arrogance of the previous Government is gone, thankfully. There is no way that the current Government could do away with the town councils. It would not get away with doing what the last Government did. It was a foolish mistake. It was led by a certain former Member. I do not like naming people, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and you know that I will not do so, but we all know who it is.

People were arrogant and thought they could put everybody under their boot. They got rid of some of their own representatives, people who had given their lives to their party. They were badly thanked for the lifetime they gave to their party. The Minister of State knows who I am talking about. The people concerned were treated very badly.

Like my brother, I am glad that nobody is sticking their snout into County Kerry.

They are putting it into Cork.

They may keep their noses out of it and leave us alone.

This is similar to the abolition of the dual mandate. I can tell a funny story about that. Some politicians thought it was a good idea to abolish the dual mandate. They did so to hurt independent representatives. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, you are a busy politician and you have been in politics for a long time. You know what I am talking about. On many occasions the big political establishments have thought of great ideas to take on and hurt independent politicians. One example is the abolition of the dual mandate. In our case, they thought the abolition of the dual mandate might hurt us. Instead, they left an opening for a person who was not really anxious to get into politics, but who turned out to be one of the finest politicians who ever became a member of Kerry County Council and a Member of the Dáil. In other words, these smart politicians who thought they were hurting us shot themselves in the foot. Smart people should really think about what they are doing before they do it.

The Deputy will not name him.

I am glad to be able to speak because I nearly lost most of my constituency in the last ten minutes. I am delighted to speak on this important legislation. Constituencies have undergone significant changes over the past five years with mergers, divisions and reductions in the number of Deputies. My constituency of Cork South-West has been amended in a number of ways. Before I continue, I must point out that I am honoured to have been elected and to work on behalf of my constituents in the Dáil. However, there are only three Deputies for what is probably the longest constituency in Ireland. It should have at least five Deputies representing it.

A few years ago my constituency lost many townlands that were, and always will be, considered part of Cork South-West. A section of Dunmanway has been moved into the Cork North-West constituency, which is absolutely disgraceful. It leaves the people of the area in no man's land. I would have tied myself to the gates of Dáil Éireann if I had been a Member of the House at the time to prevent losing that part of Dunmanway. It should never have happened. The same applies to Ballineen and Enniskeane. The two neighbouring small towns are so close they could be considered one. One town has been exiled to the northern half of west Cork. With no disrespect to my colleagues from that constituency, this is a mindless change and the people who have been moved are wholly unhappy about it.

The people who made that decision can only be described as pencil pushers. They drew random lines on maps wherever they wished. How could anybody think that splitting a town between constituencies would be productive or sensible? It appears from the way the lines were drawn that it must have been done late at night after a big Christmas party. The new recommendations from the Constituency Commission have done nothing to solve the problems in my constituency. Will the Minister of State ask the commission to examine this as soon as possible? I appreciate that many other constituencies also face such issues when constituents are moved out of the constituency and are left feeling disenfranchised.

Deputy, that is a little borderline. It appears to be a criticism of those who drew the lines.

One must question what they did up to a point. I lost part of Dunmanway from Cork South-West.

Far be it from me to advise you. I am just guiding you.

Okay. Local public representatives do not know where to go. In addition, recently I and my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group raised in the Dáil the issue of the Mackinnon report and the local government changes proposed for Cork City Council and Cork County Council. Again, these are senseless changes that are nothing less than power grabs by the city council. There is no democracy in them. The locals on both sides of the city and county border are not happy with these changes. The people in offices who are making these detrimental decisions have no concept of what they are doing.

In addition, I neither support nor agree with the agreement reached between the councils last Monday week. Many people in areas such as Ballincollig, who are now being forced into the city, are not happy either. It is another example of democracy being thrown out the window. Councillors work tirelessly, day and night, for their communities. Councillors such as Kevin Conway, Marcia D'Alton, June Murphy, Danny Collins and many more are totally opposed to the destructive extension of the city boundary in Cork. It appears that the only supporters of this merger are those who back the establishment. If it goes ahead, the decision will have devastating consequences for County Cork. However, I hope common sense will prevail and that those who back the establishment will change and listen to the people who elected them. I am delighted to hear that the Fianna Fáil councillors are now speaking strongly against this, even though a couple of weeks ago when I and the Rural Independent Group brought forward a motion on the issue in the House the silence from that party was deafening. Its Members rejected the motion, which could have led to kicking out the Mackinnon report.

People in offices who decide on such detrimental changes have no understanding of the areas they are changing. With regard to the new recommendations, I have noted that in many constituencies voters who had been moved from their traditional constituencies for the last election have been moved back in, but in other cases voters have been moved out. This is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. It does not make sense. A number of voters around the country still feel disengaged from local politics and their public representatives. I plead with the Minister of State to listen to the concerns I have raised. If this continues to happen democracy will be thrown out the window.

I see no provision in the Bill that seeks to amend the blatant errors of taking areas such as north Dunmanway, Enniskeane, Murragh and parts of Newcestown out of Cork South-West. I agree with the Constituency Commission on leaving areas such as Castletownbere, Cahermore, Eyeries, Allihies, Bere Island, Ardgroom, Dursey Island, Adrigole and Glengarriff in the constituency, as they should stay in Cork. Serious consideration should be given to shifting Lauragh to the constituency of Cork South-West, as it surrounds the area and the townlands. If that happened, I would seriously consider supporting the Bill. However, it is another piece of undemocratic work introduced by pencil pushers in offices who do not know the lie of the land.

I call the leader of your group.

I think I will be resigning because I do not know who will keep the peace in the group with all the land grabs that are taking place in Kerry, Cork and elsewhere. Níl a fhios agam cá bhfuil all but I am looking forward to tomorrow, amárach. I am happy to speak on this issue. Is pribhléid mór dom é, a huge privilege, to be elected to serve the people of all of Tipperary, aside for the bit that has been hived off into Limerick. I was also honoured and privileged to represent west Waterford.

I agree with having county boundaries as far as possible but one must also consider a town such as Clonmel. The river divides the town. A sizeable portion of the town that is across the river is in County Waterford. The people there were born in the hospital in Clonmel, they went to school in Clonmel and they work and socialise in Clonmel. They want to vote in Tipperary. I mean no disrespect to Deputy Butler who represents Waterford, but those people are Clonmel people. Such a town should not be divided. My colleagues were speaking about the country.

We kept Cromwell out of Clonmel centuries ago but we could not keep out big Phil, the destroyer and enforcer. He banished our town councils. He got rid of 11 borough councils and all the town councils throughout the country. Other Deputies have referred to how he trod on them. I met the Minister of State's supporters earlier and they were not very interested in his move to Europe either. The Minister of State must have hand-picked the crowd he brought here because they were all big supporters of the Minister of State. They have forgotten about the man who has left these shores, although as Kilkenny has no seashore he left the pastures of Kilkenny.

When we were engaged in talks on a programme for Government we spoke about holding plebiscites in the borough districts to ask the people if they wanted the town councils restored. We can discuss the money afterwards. There would be no cost to the State or the taxpayer. All of the county councillors I knew, be they from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party or Independents, worked tirelessly for the people, not for reward. They were doing that before there ever was remuneration. The council itself was not a cost.

The huge cost was due to the county managers, all the staff and the directors of services. What they are getting would pay all the councils and the town council for one year. I am making this point very honestly. They gave dedicated service, looked after their people and supported the Garda and the Neighbourhood Watch. In respect of the 11 councillors in the town of Clonmel, they picked up the phone and rang them to get the lowdown on what was going on the area. It was necessary. They were on the ground and in touch and the Government must try to reinstate that. When the Bill was finally passed, I told the former Minister, Phil Hogan, when I was the last Member to speak that I would meet him in another forum. With my support, former councillor Niall Dennehy from Former Local Authority Members Éire, FLAME, has taken a case to the High Court. We are awaiting answers from the Department to progress that case. The Minister of State might look into why we cannot get relevant answers to our parliamentary questions in order that we can progress that case in the Four Courts.

I note Deputy Cassells has produced a Bill that will go before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government tomorrow in a meeting I hope to attend. In fairness, his Private Members' Bill will restore this but we should start by reinstating the borough councils and then look at town councils in a voluntary capacity if necessary because the volunteers are there. It is good political ground for spawning and training young politicians. If we were honest, many of us here would admit that we started there - tús maith, leath na hoibre - so what are we are ashamed of now? Is it a case of pulling up the ladder and to hell with the people behind them? No, we want our town council back in Clonmel. We used to have a budget of €15.1 million in that town. We now have nothing. We also had the town of Carrick-on-Suir, although we never had it in Cahir but we had a block grant. We had the towns of Cashel, Tipperary town and indeed right up into Thurles, Templemore, Nenagh and Roscrea. If we had to, we would go as far as Birr - if they were not able to look after it - because Deputy Cowen did not come in to do much for Tipperary when they were looking after it. We must leave county boundaries alone where possible except when the make-up of a sizeable town, its seed, breed and generation, means it is in a single enclave and so it must be left alone. We need to go back to the drawing board here. Deputy Michael Collins was pulled up by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for criticising the mandarins who drew the lines. They must be held accountable. Retired politicians and retired senior civil servants should be on this commission, along with lay people so that it is not the preserve of the great institution down in the town where all the retired civil servants and county managers are. They have to be rooted out. We should turn off the heating there to see whether they will get out and let us, the elected people, govern. We should bring in lay people and retired politicians who have a wealth of knowledge - no more than the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. We need common sense to prevail. We do not need attacks and forays like those affecting south-west Cavan, Sligo-Leitrim and indeed south Donegal. The men who drew that up were crazy. They must be asleep or been out the night before.

I am sharing time with Deputies Brassil and O'Loughlin. I will take about ten minutes. I thank the boundary commission for completing a very difficult task. I think we will find that after each revision of the boundaries, there will be a very similar kind of debate here with some people happy and others unhappy. Essentially, there can be serious confusion for constituents, particularly on the fringes of electoral boundaries, who often find themselves in and out of constituencies. Accepting that, we must remember what the Constitution says. It talks about the tolerances between 20,000 and 30,000 - no less than 20,000 and no more than 30,000. However, it also says that as far is practicable, it should be equal throughout the country and that it should be reviewed at least once every 12 years. That was put into the Constitution at a time when there was a census of population every ten years. After 1971, the census was reviewed every five years. This change brought into sharp focus the fact that the Constitution said it should be done at least every 12 years. We knew then that there were facts and figures showing that constituencies were out of sync with the results of the census. I saw it as well. I raised the matter continually in the Dáil throughout 2006. I did not get anywhere with it and Deputy Finian McGrath and I took a case to the High Court that was referred to on a number of occasions this evening.

On that occasion, ten constituencies were seriously out of line. When we look at how tight it can be with regard to who forms a Government, that matters. We can all look at our individual constituencies. It matters who forms a Government. If there is a difference of maybe two or three people on one side or the other side of the House and the boundaries have not been reviewed, one could rightly claim that it has been an undemocratic process. This is the point we must keep in mind. It is not just from rural to urban. During the review at that time, and we had a look at the numbers in some considerable detail, Dún Laoghaire had one seat too many and Dublin West had one seat too few. The irony was that one person was part of the next Government and the other person lost their seat. One should have been elected while there should not have been the extra seat in the other constituency, so it can matter. If we are really talking about democracy in the big sense of the word in terms of representing the country as it stands, we must not lose sight of that.

The judge in this case, who is now Chief Justice, reminded us that it was not just a Government obligation but the obligation of the Oireachtas to carry out this revision, although, in practice, we know the work is done by the particular Department, which is the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. He also said it should immediately set in train the review of the constituencies and that it was a matter of the utmost importance. We saw just recently that we could have been in the middle of a general election with a revision that should have taken place so we can see the urgency regarding making sure that we are true to the Constitution and that as far as is practicable, we make sure that every citizen in this country is equal. I wanted to make that point because I have listened to many things here that tend to look at it in a fragmented way, which is very frustrating because it is about a bigger principle. I can also feel great sympathy for people on the fringes of constituencies who are in and out and feel very frustrated about that and where one sees a town divided where it should not be divided.

I have been hugely frustrated by what we do not do with our census of population. I have seen numerous examples. The advertisement goes out and people are told to fill in the census form on census night, as they should and as I would always encourage them to do, because we need this information so that we can provide services. One then looks at how the census is or is not used. For example, how come Kildare has the lowest ratio of gardaí to population? Meath is pretty similar, as is the likes of Wexford. These are places that have grown very substantially and where there is a policing plan every year that is supposed to look at demographics and crime statistics. However, in fact, up to now, it has been a work of fiction. We look at some of the services that are provided by the HSE. They bear no relationship to that growing population and those needs. I have a huge criticism of the underuse of the census of population in terms of the delivery of service. It fails spectacularly in terms of what it asks people to put in the census form and what it does with the information afterwards. I had a look at the data relating to growth in the country over 20 years. If we start looking at the area around Dublin, we can see that the city centre grew by 13% while Cork city only grew by 1% so the figures are not growing in the right places. I looked at the fringes. Fingal grew by 43% while Meath grew by 44% and Kildare grew by 39%.

If we look at the delivery of services, we find the areas that have experienced a growth in population are the ones that lag behind in terms of the delivery of services. I use every opportunity to make that point because it drives me nuts. What should ultimately happen in terms of treating our democratic process with a degree of priority, which we have not often done, is the introduction of an overarching, independent statutory body with full operational and regulatory powers over the electoral process such as a chief electoral officer. When we have a referendum we have a referendum commission but a standing organisation could do research into good practice in terms of voter turnout and dealing with the electoral register on an ongoing basis. The present situation is quite confusing to people. If they fill out the form at a particular time of the year it is okay. However, getting onto the supplementary register can involve going to a Garda station and things like that can be off-putting. Such an organisation should look at voter registration and boundary divisions and redraw them. There would be consistency if it was done that way. Political finance, regulation and voter education could be included. There is merit in looking at the health of our democracy from the point of view of how we manage these things. We have not given it the attention it needs. I support the notion of directly elected mayors. It is a very positive thing. I hope when we are looking at boundaries, we are not strict in terms of the county boundaries because functional areas can be very different from the county boundaries. I hope that would be part of the consideration.

Listening to some of the debate this evening, I began to think that in addition to there being no need for an Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill, there is no need for an election. Based on the backslapping that has gone on in the past half hour, I think Members should automatically be re-elected. I jest.

I have been told by the Whip of my party, Deputy Michael Moynihan, that there is a long-standing tradition, going back 40 years to when Jack Lynch introduced this system of boundary commissions, the purpose of which was to avoid gerrymandering, that no amendments are accepted. I would like to think that through this debate, we could break the tradition. I say that for a specific reason. I come from an area in County Louth that had nothing but confusion for many years. When I was growing up, one polling booth was in County Monaghan and the other one was in County Louth. The parish was totally divided in terms of who one's electoral support should be going to. I refer to that to show that the issue of where people vote is about identity. My constituency includes more than 22,000 voters in the coastal area of Meath. A constituency's name should reflect the area it represents; as boundary commissions change, that creates a problem. Those 22,000 voters in County Meath could almost elect a representative because 30,185 votes is the number required based on Louth's population of 150,924. It is terribly important that the name of the constituency is not just "Louth". Others have tabled other amendments on the issue of what the name should be. There is a constituency called Meath East which is traditionally the area that in Louth has been referred to as east Meath. Meath probably has the shortest county coastline in the country of approximately 13 km. The people of Julianstown, Mornington and Laytown should be able to identify with their area. It is for that reason I wish to contribute this evening. I know we will not deal with amendments until later but I believe there needs to be some thought on that issue.

We are a county with a long tradition of service and are very proud to have had Pádraig Faulkner, Séamus Kirk and Rory O'Hanlon, who served the Monaghan constituency, elected as Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil. If we consider the era of Frank Aiken and the various Ministers who served then, we know the electorate identifies with those who work on behalf of their constituents. Deputy Eugene Murphy referred to the issue of other areas coming in. People need to be clear on who their representatives are and in this case the name does not reflect that. I am sure representatives of other counties would say the same. In this case, "Louth Coastal Meath" is an apt name.

I was listening to some of the contributions earlier and I felt that when my turn came I should sing a Christy Moore song because he sings about every townland in Kildare. Daniel O'Donnell has a new song out called "The Roads of Kildare".

It is his birthday today.

I share a birthday with Christy Moore on 7 May. I wish a happy birthday to both of those fine gentlemen.

Getting back to the substantive issue, we all know why there was a constituency boundary revision. It is important that everybody is represented fairly and equally. It should not just break down on numbers. When we are talking about democracy in action, whether local or national, we are talking about the sense of meitheal. We are talking about communities that work together. We are talking about the sense of pride of place where there is a strong identity with traditions, the town, the local football team and the county football team. The county boundary in all areas should be respected.

When I made a submission to the new boundary revision constituency committee I made that point very strongly and forcibly because in the last general election the people of Monasterevin, rural Athy and Kildangan could not use their vote in their county and had to use it in Laois. My wishes were respected in one respect and the people in those areas came back into Kildare South which is very welcome. However, people from Portarlington, Killenard, Ballybrittas, the Offaly part of Portarlington and parts of north Kildare are now in Kildare South. A total of 12 electoral districts are coming back into my constituency. The people of Portarlington, Killenard and Ballybrittas are very aggrieved and I completely understand that.

We talk about identity and people working together to attract industry and the necessary infrastructure. There will now be two county councils, Laois County Council and Offaly County Council, and two Dáil constituencies, Kildare South and Laois. Portarlington is the second biggest town in County Laois and it is being taken away from its county, which leads to a loss of morale. I have had a number of meetings with the good people of Portarlington and they all feel very aggrieved by this, which I completely understand.

County boundaries should be respected. Having said that, I want to make a commitment here and now to the people of that area. I know they will be losing the services of Deputies Cowen and Fleming but I commit to do everything in my power to represent them as best I can as I have done in the area of Kildare South for the past 20 months. I am delighted we are bringing back in the areas of Monasterevin, rural Athy and Kildangan and also the areas of Carbury and Clogharinka which were in Kildare North.

I hope we bear all that in mind for the local election boundaries. Communities, towns and villages that operate as units should be preserved. That should be considered alongside numbers.

I know my time is brief.

One big minute, I am told. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I have the distinction of being possibly the only Member of the Dáil who could not vote for myself in the past two general elections. Five years ago I stood here disappointed with the outcome of the Constituency Commission's report. Today I stand here welcoming the report as the part of County Carlow that has been in exile for the past 20 years has been returned to join up with the rest of the county in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency. I thank those who made submissions from that part of Carlow including Rathvilly, Hacketstown, Clonmore, Tiknock, Kineagh and so on.

It is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that this is not about the politicians, but about the people in the constituencies. Apathy has arisen as a result. The voter turnout in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency in the last general election was 66%. The voter turnout in Wicklow, including east Carlow, was 71%. The voter turnout in Wicklow that excluded east Carlow was 72%. The voter turnout among the 4,500 people in east Carlow who were in exile for the past 20 years was only 56%. It proves the point that people who have been disenfranchised need to be brought back into the system. We continually talk about bringing people in and engaging them, but we must ensure the system is there to engage them so that they have an opportunity to do that. I welcome the report in that regard.

We have listened to people mention the different local authority areas involved. In Carlow, we are dealing with two councils, two different regions and two different ETB regions which has complicated matters considerably.

I welcome the report and hopefully this will continue for the future. I thank those who voted for me in Carlow-Kilkenny in the last general election. I assure them that even though that part of Carlow will be returning I will be available to supplement the work the Minister of State has been doing in Carlow-Kilkenny for the last period, in particular in Kilkenny. I look forward to them being represented by us in the next period.

I call an Teachta Ó Cuív. I remind the House that the order of today is that we adjourn this debate at 9 p.m. unless we can complete it in advance.

We need to recognise that this report was done by an independent commission. Based on population, the constituencies as laid out should be accepted. The last time a report came in, I tabled an amendment suggesting that the constituency of Galway West be called Galway West-South Mayo because that was the popular choice of the people. My amendment was defeated in the Dáil vote. I was amused to hear some of the Government Deputies of the time continue to call the constituency Galway West-South Mayo even though they had voted against that in Dáil Éireann.

There is a fundamental difference between changing anything that relates to population or anything else here and making the names more friendly and what the people on the ground want. Whereas I agree with the principle that the constituencies as laid out here should be adhered to, there is no reason the Dáil cannot change the names of those constituencies as long as that name change is reasonable and reflects the desire on the ground.

I have followed this debate with interest. To follow the constitutional provision of as far as is practicable having an equal representation across the country, county boundaries need to be broken. It is just not possible to do it any other way. Solomon or a crew of Solomons would not devise a system to do it any differently. The previous Government made a monumental error in reducing the number of Deputies, which could and should be changed. The reality is that Government Members got their answer. They went on a splurge in trying to reduce democracy because some of their pals in The Irish Times thought there were too many public representatives in the country. Therefore, they reduced the number of local authority public representatives.

I believe there should be equality in the country areas as opposed to towns - I do not know what is so sacrosanct about towns and cities. Throughout the country we need footpaths, streetlights, water and all the other things. We need planning permission and we have to be subject to all these laws. That said, we could have reformed local government but not reduced local democracy.

The previous Government then proceeded with something it thought would be very popular in trying to abolish the Seanad. However, the reality is that Irish people like public representatives. They give out about us all the time, which is fair game and part of what we are there for, but they love us. They come to us every week and they want us to represent them. They never think they have too many representatives on an individual basis. They think there are too many out there, but they do not think there are half enough in their own constituencies. We should not listen to the gurus all the time; we should listen to the people.

On top of all these cutbacks, the Government decided to go to the absolute limit of the 30,000. I remember when it was nearer to 20,000 rather than 30,000 and with very rapid rises in population we were very near the 30,000. For some mysterious reason the Government decided to cut the Dáil representation from 166 to 158. If when it was proposing to abolish the Seanad it also proposed increasing Dáil representation from 166 to 188 or 190, it might have got away with abolishing the Seanad. However, people were not going to take that much of a diminution in their public representatives.

We should learn the lesson that people in this country value democracy and value local representation. They believe that it is a good idea not to take all their politics from experts. Of course, we should listen to experts, but the people who should ultimately direct policy in this State are the ordinary people of the country for whom we are meant to guide policy.

According to the Government's great national planning framework, the population is projected to increase by 1 million people between now and 2040. That means that because it has gone to the 30,000 limit and it has repeated the mistake this time, with every constituency review the Government will have to review all sorts of areas because it will have to keep increasing the Dáil representation. If we had taken the brave leap and gone back to 166 or 170, the Government would have had to do a little bit of adjusting for population shift, but all things being equal, where the population grew in line with the national trend in population, it would not have had to keep changing it.

If the Government's spatial strategy goes the way it is telling it will go, the rural constituencies will get increasingly bigger. The strategy is to push everybody into the cities and the rural area will be denuded. I do not know if people realise how big and complex constituencies can get. I represent Galway West-South Mayo and I could not believe my luck at the last constituency review because where I had lived and fought all elections since I started contesting elections I had a population of 2,000 within 20 miles of my house. It was not much of a home base.

Thankfully, on the previous occasion another 10,000 people were added to that constituency. I was not exactly complaining because the Mayo border is only four miles from my house and literally borders my parish. Half of that constituency will go back into Mayo and I am happy for those people. They were very anxious to go back into Mayo, and I can understand that, but those in the other half are staying with us and since I can give them a great service because I am so local, I am very happy about that. I hope I will continue to give them a good service as a local Deputy but the reality in our constituency is that we must look at the challenges. We have a good slice of area east of the Corrib, nearly as far as Athenry. A little is being shaved off that, half way between Clarinbridge and Kilcolgan. Despite what people think there is a very populous area east of the Corrib, the area in which my colleague, Deputy Grealish, lives. It is a big enough area population wise to elect a Deputy.

We have Galway city, which gives us local authority No. 2. We then have the whole of Connemara, including four offshore islands that pose their own problems in terms of visiting and servicing them. To travel from one end of the constituency to the other, particularly because we did not get the bypass in Galway, could take anything up to two hours. That is going from east to west. If one goes out to the island it will take one a lot longer, although the aeroplane to Arran Island is handy.

Our constituency then goes into a third local authority, Mayo, so we have three local authorities. To travel from Leitir Mealláin to the furthest end up in County Mayo would take one another hour and a half. That means it is very difficult for representatives to give a good service.

I hear people talk about the House of Commons, the house of this and the house of that. I recall being in Holland one time doing work for An Bord Bia as a Minister. I attended an event and I thought I would have to go around and shake everybody's hand but they told me that politicians do not do that in Holland. I asked, "What do they not do?" I asked them if I did the right thing and they said I gave the speech and did whatever I had to do but the idea of literally going around getting to know everybody was not part of their politics. That is a grand place. One could represent any number of people that way. I am afraid that would not work too well in the way we operate here.

The second myth is that there are only 600 MPs across the water serving a population that is 12 times bigger than ours but they do not have multi-seat constituencies. The reality is that, on average, in a five seat constituency each one of us represents the entire 150,000. The Minister of State knows that too. In addition, since there are another four representatives chasing around and a few Senators on top of that, one has to be at every dog fight whereas if one is the only person with the word "Deputy" before one's name representing 50,000 or 60,000, one would be under a lot less pressure to be everywhere all the time.

I am strongly of the view that we should not be shy about high levels of representation in this country. I am sure that if we put it to the people of Mayo, they would love to get the fifth seat back. In fact, they would love to go back to the time of the six seater or the two three seaters, as would Donegal. I can guarantee that the people of Galway West would love it if our constituency contracted and we could spend a lot more time on the ground in a smaller area.

We will accept this one but I hope whoever is in government the next time does not try to please The Irish Times, which cannot be pleased anyway, and tries to please the people for a change. The next time we should increase the number so that for two or three revisions, allowing for the fact that the population will increase, we will not be forced to increase the number of seats time after time, which is the way we will have to go. If we continue to adjust the 30 at every revision, we will have to increase the seat again and again. We would be better making one jump and having that sustainable for at least three revisions and then, if necessary, making another jump.

Tuigim go bhfuileadar ag iarraidh ag iarraidh an díospóireacht seo a chríochnú anocht. Ní dhéarfaidh mise níos mó faoi. Glacaim leis an gcinneadh atá déanta. Guím chuile rath ar chuile duine sa Dáil seo a bheas ag seasamh arís. Beidh mise féin ag seasamh. Is cuma cén leagan amach a bheas ar an nDáilcheantar, seasfaidh mise agus tabharfaidh mé an oiread seirbhíse agus is féidir do mo mhuintir féin.

I will briefly wrap up in the interests of getting this legislation into the Seanad as soon as possible.

With regard to Deputy Ó Cuív's comments on broadening the terms for future commissions, some of that is partly included in section 5. The other issues principally revolve around the need to keep county boundaries intact. That is a broader question. The Department is currently drafting legislation with regard to an electoral commission and that is something that commission should be charged with examining.

Question put and agreed to.