Article 26 of the Constitution directs the Oireachtas to revise the constituencies into which Saorstát Eireann is divided for Dáil representation at least once in every ten years. Excluding University members, the total number of members of Dáil Eireann must be not less than 1 for every 30,000 of population, nor more than 1 for every 20,000, and the proportion between the number of members and the population of the several constituencies must so far as possible be identical. "Population" means here the population as ascertained at the last preceding Census.
The population of Saorstát Eireann as ascertained at the Census taken in 1926 is 2,971,992. Therefore, in accordance with the formula in the Constitution the total number of Deputies must be not less than 100 nor more than 148. The existing constituencies in the Electoral Act, 1923, together return 147 members. On the basis of the Census of 1911 the proportion between the number of members and the population was more or less the same. Between 1911 and 1926 there have been substantial changes in population; some areas have increased: for instance, Dublin City and County from 477,196 to 505,654, whereas Donegal has decreased from 168,537 to 152,508 and Roscommon from 93,956 to 83,556. These changes alone call for a revision of the allocation of seats and there is also a case for a reduction in membership of Dáil Eireann. I have given careful and serious consideration to the question of how far is reduction in membership feasible. The result of a drastic reduction would be to increase beyond reasonable limits the volume of work that Deputies have to perform. Any substantial increase in their correspondence and in the time necessarily spent in travelling would cause an impasse. This Bill provides for 138 members, that is a reduction of 9 or, if you included the abolition of university constituencies, for which a further Bill is now in progress, a reduction of 15 on the 1923 figures. That is for the time being a sufficient reduction.
There is also a further objection to the constituencies in the Electoral Act. Some of these constituencies are so large that it is quite impossible for any Deputy to attempt to keep in personal contact with his constituents. As it is now, these large areas are sub-divided for working purposes by Deputies, even for electioneering. The three very large constituencies were Donegal, Galway and Kerry counties. I consider that the sub-division of these constituencies which is proposed in this Bill represents a substantial improvement in every way. The constituencies were framed with the following intentions: first, to provide as many 3-member constituencies as possible; second, to preserve as far as possible the existing administrative county boundaries; third, to avoid unwieldy areas and, above all, to keep the averages level.
Some constituencies fulfil all these points without any difficulty, e.g., Louth, Monaghan, Kilkenny, and in other cases there is a certain degree of compromise. For instance, in Cavan County—population, 82,452—on the merits, it is preferable to preserve the administrative county boundary and allot 4 members; to insist on a 3-member constituency would involve a sub-division of the county and a transfer of a portion to an adjoining county.
The county with a population less than 60,000 and more than 50,000 presents a different problem. With 3 members it would be over-represented and under-represented with two members. In no single instance is there more than one member for every 20,000 population. That is, of course, an essential matter. The only solution of the difficulty is to be found in transferring a portion of an adjoining county containing sufficient population to supply the deficiency. For example, Kildare, Wicklow and Wexford counties have populations of 58,028, 57,591, and 95,845 respectively. Carlow county has a population of 34,476, and would not be entitled to 2 members. Kildare and Wicklow are nearly entitled to 3 members and Wexford to 5, and they each adjoin Carlow county. In the Bill, Carlow county is subdivided between these three counties and the population so transferred makes the population of the constituency sufficient for a 3 or 5-member constituency.
As regards the average population per member, the highest is that for Dublin townships—three members for a population of 73,367, or an average of 24,456 per member. This is not a grievance or a hardship where the constituency is so near at hand. There are 15 constituencies returning three members, eight returning four members, eight returning five members and three returning seven members. At a general election each elector has a transferable vote. Now the fact that the constituencies return three or more members and that electors have a transferable vote is a guarantee in itself that the election will be according to the principle of proportional representation. No substantial body of opinion need be unrepresented under these conditions, and there is a guarantee that the Party getting the most votes will have a majority of the seats with the prospect of a working majority in the Dáil. I do not agree that proportional representation means that the composition of the Dáil must represent exactly the different political opinions in the country.
In accordance with Article 26 of the Constitution, this Bill will not take effect during the life of Dáil Eireann now sitting.