We now move to the Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2017, Second Stage.
Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2017: Second Stage
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 to the Electoral Act 1997. In broad terms, the Bill we are debating today 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 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 change and its 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 them in full and without change. The Bill now before this 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. Article 16.2.2° of the Constitution provides: "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 16.2.3° provides: "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." Finally, Article 16.2.4° provides: "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 Dáil constituencies were last revised, 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% population increase on the 2011 population, distributed unevenly across the country but largely on its eastern seaboard. The population is such now that the ratio of Members to population, at 30,138, is outside the constitutional limit of one to 30,000. While this does not make the composition of the Thirty-first 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 general election. 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 McGrath and 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 McGrath and Murphy in 2007, to which I referred earlier.
The 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, of which 18 constituencies were recommended to remain unchanged from the previous review completed in 2011. The report by the Central Statistics Office on the final results of census 2016 showed the total population in the State as 4,761,865, an increase of 173,613 people or a rise of 3.8% in the population since April 2011, with the majority of that change located 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 all Senators are familiar with its content and its recommendations. However, for the information of Senators and for the record of the House, I will outline the main features of the Commission's report in relation to Dáil and European constituencies.
The Commission recommends that the number of Members of Dáil Éireann should be 160; this is the maximum number permitted under section 6(2)(a) of the Electoral Act 1997 and provides a Member to population ratio of 1:29,762.
The commission recommended that there be 13 five-seat constituencies, up from the current 11, 17 four-seat constituencies, which is one more than at present, and nine three-seat constituencies, which is four fewer than now. This gives a total of 39 constituencies, one fewer than at present.
The commission recommended that 18 constituencies remain unchanged. These are, as listed in the commission's 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 had given 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 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 adhered 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 the existing Dáil constituencies have been retained. Overall, the commission reported that it was satisfied, in light of the constitutional requirements and its terms of reference, that the recommended constituencies met the constitutional requirements from the point of view of equality of representation.
The commission recommends changes to constituencies in a number of areas. Dublin Central should become a four-seat constituency, with four electoral divisions totalling 12,394 people transferred in from Dublin North-West and one electoral division with a population of 5,064 transferred in from Dublin Bay North. Dún Laoghaire should be revised to include part of the electoral division of Glencullen - population 1,535 - from Dublin Rathdown. This would improve the balance between the variances in these two constituencies and comprise the entire administrative area of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Cavan-Monaghan should be revised to include the 36 electoral divisions, with a population of 13,150, of County Cavan that are currently in the existing Sligo–Leitrim constituency and seven electoral divisions, with a population of 3,973, to 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-seater.
Sligo–Leitrim should have 18 electoral divisions, with a 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 should receive the transfer of 8,650 people from Galway East while Galway East itself is to be revised to include an additional population of 4,547 from Galway West. The Mayo constituency is recommended to receive the transfer of 4,893 people from that part of County Mayo that is located in the existing Galway West constituency. This reduces the size of the county boundary breach in Mayo.
Clare is to be revised to include the electoral division of Ballyglass, with a population of 5,994, that is currently in the Limerick City constituency. This will restore the county boundary of Clare. The Tipperary constituency is to receive the transfer of 10,847 people 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 4,375 people 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. Limerick County is recommended to receive the transfer of 2,008 people from Limerick City to address the high variance in the Limerick County area and to better balance the ratios between the two constituencies.
Laois and Offaly are recommended to become a single five-seat constituency similar to the arrangements that were in place from 1923 to 2013. However, to avoid a high variance, a transfer of 11,854 people will need to transfer to the Kildare South constituency. Kildare South is to become a four-seat constituency with the transfer in of the 7,892 people 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 in the Kildare county boundary. Carlow-Kilkenny is recommended to receive the transfer of the eight electoral divisions, with a population of 4,501, in Carlow that are currently located in the existing Wicklow constituency. This will eliminate the breach of the Carlow county boundary and will ensure that all of that county is now in the same constituency for the first time in 20 years.
The commission was also required to report on the constituencies for the election of Members to the European Parliament. In its report, it recommended maintaining the existing arrangement of constituencies for the election of Ireland's 11 MEPs. Therefore, I will not be tabling any amendment to the Third Schedule of 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 European Parliament constituencies. This was done in 2013.
I will now outline the main provisions of this Bill. The Bill 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 of the Bill. It is in the Schedule that the geography, as it were, of each constituency is described or specified.
Section 2 provides that, once the Bill is passed, there will be 160 Members in the next following Dáil, that is, the Dáil elected after the dissolution of the current Dáil. Section 3 provides for the 160 Members to represent the constituencies specified in the Schedule. There will be 39 constituencies, of which 13 will be five-seaters, 17 will be four-seaters and nine will be three-seaters. Section 4 provides that each constituency shall return the number of Members specified in respect of 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. One hundred and sixty is the maximum number that the Constituency Commission could recommend and that is what is provided for in this Bill. Having regard to projected increases in the population, it is likely that the limit of 160 Members that is 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 after 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 will continue in force until the next general election. For example, the constituencies in the 2013 Act will be in force for any referendum and the presidential election to be held in 2018 or for any Dáil by-election 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. While it is a matter for the Oireachtas to revise the constituencies, this practice was upheld in the Dáil when the Bill passed All Stages last Tuesday. I look forward to the debate on the Bill and commend it to the House.
I welcome the Minister of State. As he knows, I will support the Bill. As a Carlow woman, I welcome the return of my constituency.
Nationally and locally, populations must be represented fairly. These recommendations may see changes that some of us welcome and some of us do not, but we have to see it all clearly. In order to represent the people fully, there has to be the right number of representatives. Otherwise, some voices will fall silent. Many areas of Ireland are suffering because of the electoral boundaries, finding themselves in the heel of a county and forgotten for funding, services and resources. Even though the Bill does not go far enough, it is a great opportunity. I have worked in my constituency for years, including as a councillor, and I have seen people in the tail heel of a constituency. Some in my county vote in Wicklow, for example, yet they must approach Carlow County Council for services in terms of housing, roads, grants, etc.
This has to be sorted and that is why I welcome it.
I can only speak for my own area. I believe that recommending the return of east Carlow to Carlow-Kilkenny is good news for Carlow. I know many of these people. I work for these people. I see them in Carlow at events and celebrations. I know their hearts were always in Carlow even if their polling booths were not.
I look forward to welcoming home those from east Carlow. They have been away for far too long. They are gone almost 21 years. Over 4,000 people in eight electoral divisions have lived worked, socialised, earned, spent and enjoyed themselves in County Carlow, yet they had to vote in Wicklow. Many will relish the opportunity to vote in Carlow-Kilkenny. Carlow needs them and we are stronger together. We can work together for the good of the county and the people in it. That is why I welcome the report. I believe in everyone working together. Since I have worked so long in the various areas, I know the needs that must be met. This is better for the people of Hackettstown, Rathvilly and the surrounding areas. I welcome it.
I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber as a distinguished former Member of the House.
We have a census every five years and we revise the constituencies based on the changes in population. Perhaps there is a need to look at how we do it. While I welcome the independent review I wish to discuss the area I am most familiar with, Limerick City and the area nearby. I will make some general observations.
Recommendations are based on whether the change in constituencies is plus 5% or minus 5%. That is a crude measure. The problem is that it has led to a situation whereby we can have shifts in constituencies. Limerick City, as a constituency, is probably as good a constituency as any to look at the changes that have taken place and their impact. Limerick City was originally called Limerick East and it was a five-seat constituency from the foundation of the State up to the 2011 election. It took in all of Limerick city and east Limerick as well. It was probably three quarters urban and one quarter rural. Then, there was a small hiatus. To keep Kerry with two three-seaters, virtually all of west Limerick was annexed to Kerry. Limerick had had eight seats overall but suddenly it had gone down to seven. One consequence was that the constituency of Limerick West had to stay as a three-seater - it is now called Limerick - and Limerick East became Limerick City, a four-seater. The latter lost virtually all the rural area it had. One consequence was that the areas of Cappamore, Bilboa and Doon West moved. They comprise a rural area on the Tipperary border, which was taken out in 2011. Suddenly, it returned. When the constituency review came about, the area was returned for the 2016 general election. Now, it has gone back out again for the next general election. The people of Cappamore, Bilboa and Doon West feel disenfranchised. Traditionally, their association would have been with east Limerick. One reason for this was to ensure Limerick could continue to have the population. We took Cappamore, Bilboa and Doon West across to the constituency of Limerick. It is too crude a measure.
There were changes in the Clare areas of Westbridge, Shannon Banks, Carrig Meade, Ardnacrusha and Parteen. Effectively, these are suburbs of Limerick city and have been in the Limerick City and Limerick East constituencies for years. Now, suddenly, they have gone back into Clare. The people living in these areas go to school in Limerick and would naturally gravitate towards the city. Cappamore, Bilboa and Doon West went to the constituency of Limerick. Suddenly, Limerick City was short in population.
It is ironic that the Minister of State referred to not breaching county boundaries. He said that Clare was to be revised to include the electoral divisions of Ballyglass, which includes Westbury. These are suburbs of Limerick city. That would restore the county boundary in Clare.
Then we come to Tipperary and we find that to ensure Limerick City has sufficient population we have to take Newport, Birdhill and Ballinahinch into the Limerick City constituency. They are near us geographically and many of the people living there would be from the Limerick area. Nevertheless, people living in the Newport, Ballinahinch and Birdhill believe they have always been in the Tipperary constituency. Many there believe this has happened as an unintended consequence of the areas of Clare that are suburbs of Limerick going back to Clare.
The 5% measure may be a little too crude. Perhaps we should look at the socioeconomic trends in the sense of areas that are very much linked. The matter should be taken under advisement in terms of the next terms of reference.
I wish to speak about my constituency. Cappamore, Bilboa and Doon West are rural towns on the Tipperary border. The area has been in the Limerick constituency since the foundation of the State. The people there see it like "Lannigan's Ball". They were taken out in 2011, they were brought back in 2016 and now they are gone out again. I was elected as a councillor to the area in 2004. I have always represented them and I will continue to do so. Numerous phenomenal projects are under way. A voluntary housing scheme of 12 houses is going into the village shortly. A new library was built in recent times. No doubt they will get good representation in the constituency of Limerick, but their natural affinity is to the city.
The Clare villages of Westbridge, Shannon Banks, Carrig Meade, Ardnacrusha and Parteen are large suburbs of Limerick city. This is a big change for these people. I have represented these areas for many years. People were not aware this would happen.
Newport, Ballinahinch and Birdhill are geographically close to Limerick but the arrangement breaches county boundaries and it is a major change for people living there. I live near the area but I am conscious of the changes for people living there. Geographically, we are close to them - I am only 7 km or 8 km from them - and I trust that people will look to us to deliver the service. Nevertheless, I believe the 5% margin may be too crude a measure. We should look at other ways to manage it. The problem is that the border areas in constituencies will become the variables. The area comprising Cappamore, Bilboa and Doon West is a classic example. We will have had three elections in which the people will have had different candidates calling to them in each time. That is not fair to the people living in those areas.
I welcome the report. I am sorry to see the people of Cappamore, Bilboa and Doon West going from Limerick City constituency and the same goes for Westbridge, Shannon Banks and Ardnacrusha. However, I am looking forward to continue representing the people in Newport, Birdhill and Ballinahinch with whatever issues they have. If people from Cappamore, Bilboa, Doon West and the Clare areas wish to come to us, we are still there to represent them. The measure of 5% may be a little too crude and does not take into account the socioeconomic consequences for people in these areas.
It is amusing that given the political reform of Deputy Enda Kenny's democratic revolution amounted to reducing the number of Deputies and a referendum to abolish the Seanad, here we are talking about the number of Members of Dáil Éireann.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Sinn Féin will be supporting the recommendations set out by the independent Constituency Commission within the Bill. That commission has the difficult job of adhering to the democratic requirements under the Constitution and attempting to keep constituencies within agreeable boundaries and county boundaries - an impossible task in many ways. Given the views outlined in this debate about different constituencies, perhaps Members should be given more scope to feed those views into the commission and have them taken into consideration.
There is irony in this House debating boundaries of constituencies in the Lower House. Our electorate is not structured by geographical area, despite what many Senators might claim. Furthermore, the Seanad's electoral system has been awaiting significant reform for years. Elections to this House are elitist in nature and need a complete overhaul so that the Seanad is relevant and accountable to all members of the public. I ask the Minister of State to encourage the Taoiseach to establish the working group on Seanad reform. The delay is becoming somewhat embarrassing.
In that spirit, I would like to see more debates in this House on electoral reform. The Government and its institutions have the responsibility of informing the electorate and encouraging active citizenship by making voting as accessible as possible. There is huge scope for active citizenship to become transformative with simple legislative amendments. I have two Bills on the Order Paper, one to lower the voting age to 16, which is due to reach Committee Stage in the new year after it was delayed by the House. I look forward to that debate. The second proposal has the potential to widen the electoral register by about 500,000 for citizens who have been resident in the State for over five years.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I commend the Constituency Commission. There is huge value to all of us in its work. I look forward to the prospect of an electoral commission that can do further work in this regard that would be tasked with maximising citizenship through accessible voting rights and in turn making these Houses more accountable and more outward-facing with increased engagement with the wider public.
I welcome the Minister of State. I will speak to my amendment on Committee Stage.
I welcome the debate and I welcome the Minister of State. I compliment him on his stewardship of the boundary issue in Cork city and county. I congratulate the city and county councils on reaching a conclusion.
My initial reaction was that I would love to vote against this legislation. It is time we had a serious discussion on electoral reform and how we do our business through having an electoral commission. There has been too much tinkering and not enough substantive reform of our electoral process.
I do not mean these remarks to be personal to any member of the commission, but I believe this is the most disappointing electoral Bill I have seen in my time in politics. No change is proposed in Cork city or county even though every constituency has a variance which makes a mockery of the outcome. The members of the commission looked at various proposals for Cork and they funked it; they bottled it.
If we are serious about representation, we cannot disenfranchise people, which is what we are doing. Senators Kieran O'Donnell and Murnane O'Connor referred to people becoming disenfranchised in their areas. They are right in saying that the power of the people is diluted. They may not know those who represent them or may have no affinity to them. In some cases people do not know where to go to for service provision and in some local authority areas they might be passed from A to B. Senator Murnane O'Connor is right that they are losing out in the allocation of funding.
Despite all the talk about new politics, our task in tandem with being Members of the Oireachtas and legislators is to represent the people, and advocate and lobby for them. This Bill does not allow us to do that. It prevents people from being represented in its totality. It makes no sense in the Cork South-Central constituency for Bishopstown, Glasheen, Togher, Wilton, the Mardyke, Sheares Street, the Middle Parish, Grattan Street and Barrack Street to be diluted at the stroke of a hand. We are breaching boundaries all over the place. I am very fond of the Minister of State and I have great respect for him. He is one of the most sincere people in the House, but this is serious. This is not about me or electoral gain or loss or whatever. It is about people.
The Senator has two minutes.
I will take as long as I can.
Given the number of new breaches, we are not serious about giving people representation and a voice. Maps are being drawn be people who have no idea and who do not care, which is not good enough. That is why we need meaningful electoral reform. Let us tear it all up and begin again.
The Senator is a serious disappointment.
We take our seats in here and represent the people for whom we will advocate. I am serious. I have a very simple view. It is not about me, Senator Murnane O'Connor, Senator Kieran O'Donnell or whoever, but about the people. I have always said this. We have too much tinkering. The terms of reference for the commission were wrong from day one.
I would love to vote against the Bill, but because I am duty bound to support the Government, I will do so. We really need serious reform of our system, whether it is by the single transferable vote in single seats constituencies or the list system. Let us do that, but let us not cod the people and cod ourselves that we are doing this because of whatever. We cannot breach parish and county boundaries and expect people to be happy, and they are not.
I find myself in agreement with Senator Buttimer. Irish people have a strong sense of place and have strong affiliations with their village, town or city. Often they are torn apart or lines are drawn and they cannot understand it.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell gave me a fantastic tour of Kerry, Limerick and Clare.
We aim to educate the Dubs.
Many of them were towns in which I worked over the years and so I know them extremely well. I spent three to four months in each of them at different times.
In 2011 when the previous Government was formed, it was a very different time and we showed leadership in reducing the number of Dáil Deputies, as the Taoiseach of the day said we would.
That was wrong, too.
Let me develop the point.
It reflected what was going on in the country at large. We were asking public and civil servants to do more for less. We also had to ask ourselves to do more for less. It was correct at the time and I still believe that was the case. The problem is we have now moved to the outer limits of population representation and it means that every census will result in another change to boundaries which will not allow people to settle with their public representatives, or public representatives to make strong connections with the people. Time has passed and we should reflect this on this point. The population is growing and we can project forward and say every census will probably result in a change to boundaries, whether county, town or parish boundaries. Therefore, we have to be realistic.
What we really need at a very early stage is a debate on boundaries and the terms of reference to take the matter out of the political sphere. I will not stand here and criticise the commission which is independent. It was given terms of reference and did a job with them. We may or may not like it, but we must have a proper discussion with the Minister of State on the terms of reference. We must strengthen the importance of the city, parish or neighbourhood. I have seen lines being drawn through housing estates, such that people on one side of the road are in the area of Dublin City Council, while those on the other are in the area of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I cannot get to areas in my former constituency by staying within its boundaries. Only last week I was told by people that they had never seen anyone in their estate representing Dublin Bay South and that they felt isolated. This is a problem in cities, but people also feel isolated in counties Limerick, Tipperary and Donegal.
The heel of a constituency.
As the Senator said, people are in the heel of a constituency. We have a responsibility to make sure people are able to associate strongly with their constituency. I would like the Minister of State to come back to the House - perhaps the Leader might facilitate this - in order that we can have a serious debate, not a party political one, on the issue. We want what is best for the people and to build a strong relationship between public representatives and the communities and areas they represent. If we are for the foreseeable future to see a change to boundaries following each census, there will be a disconnect. There is already a disconnect in the local government system because we have vast local electoral areas. I was part of an electoral system that approved and voted in favour ot them and I was wrong. I say loudly and clearly that I was wrong. I also was wrong about town commissions. I voted in favour and say openly in the House that I was wrong. When one is wrong, one must go back and fix one's mistakes. I, therefore, ask the Minister of State in all seriousness to remove the issue from the census cycle. Let us talk about it early next year in a calm and rational manner and possibly refer it to a committee. Let us work out a better system under which citizens would feel they were represented and would not be jumped every three or four years into either a different local government area or Dáil constituency. We have a responsibility to do this.
On the Bill, we almost had an accident a couple of weeks ago when a general election could have been called and it would have been based on the results of the previous census. In all seriousness, Joe Costello went to the courts and I know that the matter will be before the High Court in the new year, but this should not happen. The results were laid before the House on 27 June. We should not be passing the resulting legislation at the beginning of December. The delay is unacceptable. We could have had a general election that would have been legally questionable. The Minister of State had a responsibility to act and I believe he failed in that responsibility because of the delay in bringing forward legislation.
I welcome the Minister of State. I very much agree with Senators Jerry Buttimer and Kevin Humphreys. I realise the Bill is a fait accompli, but more of a dog's dinner could not have been made in providing for the new boundaries. The commission was given the rules and had to make them up based on the criteria it had been given. I experienced this at the last general election and, again, it is not about me. This time I will not be in the same constituency, but it is not about that. Senators are welcoming new constituencies, which is fine. Sometimes in one revision the commission seems to correct the mistakes made in the previous revision.
The idea that population size supersedes everything is one about which we need to talk in a calm debate. Is it suggested there be 150 Deputies on the east coast in 20 years' time? We speak about rejuvenating the concept of regional development. We also need to do this when it comes to people representing their areas. It should not be the king over everything else. Challenges are faced by representatives in rural areas in having to travel 30 or 40 miles to visit a house on a mountain or in the middle of a bog. This issue needs to be looked at calmly and without being under pressure to pass legislation as we are today. People feel disenfranchised. They do not feel connected to their constituencies because the boundaries are changing so much. In the 2016 general election I knocked on hundreds of doors and people had no idea that the constituency boundaries had changed.
Small things make a huge difference. Senator Kevin Humphreys referred to a sense of place. As a Kilkenny hurling fan, the Minister of State must realises this.
We used to win.
That was then.
The big strength of Irish society is its sense of place and these boundary concoctions will do everything to eliminate it. The number of seats in the Mayo constituency was reduced to based on population size. Hundreds of people told me on the doorstep that even if the number of seats was reduced to four, the county boundaries should be kept. This is hugely important. As I said, hundreds of people did not vote as a result of the changes. The response to correct the mistake - moving part of the county back into the Mayo constituency - will further isolate those who will be in the Galway West constituency. This will compound the problems resulting from the previous division. I know that I am preaching to the converted. I remember a little dispute the Minister of State had with Senator Paudie Coffey when people in Waterford wanted to include a bit of Kilkenny in the constituency. I remember very robust debates taking place on various platforms. I appeal to the Minister of State, not because it is a fait accompli, to ensure people's sense of place is protected. Population size should not be the only criterion. Otherwise in years to come there will be huge areas in which there will be a total disconnect.
Others have spoken about the need to have a wider debate. It has been well acknowledged that we have been waiting for a wider debate and hoping one would be held. It is unfortunate that because of circumstances the Bill is being seen as a formality to implement a set of recommendations rather than have a wider debate. We should take any opportunity we get to examine democracy in its deeper sense.
Some of the changes, such as the abolition of town councils by the previous Government, were most regrettable. If we want to inspire and encourage engagement with democracy it is important to ensure people have the experience of voting, of affecting a decision and of seeing the impact at the most local level. Some unfortunate decisions were made in that respect which have perhaps made things a little more distant in terms of the relationship between a person's vote and action and he or she being an agent within one's town or community. That is something we must look at as part of the wider debate.
I wish to speak very briefly to highlight one issue. I hope we will see the Minister of State return here early in the new year with the electoral reform agenda for Seanad reform. If respect of electoral reform, there is a clear and explicit commitment in the programme for Government to the implementation of the Manning report. Unlike other areas of reform, we do not need to start from scratch as we have a report that was agreed across the Oireachtas that sets forward very clear proposals. The debate is now simply around its implementation. This is an issue on which we do not need to go back to the drawing board but where we can move ahead very soon. I emphasise to the Minister of State that this is something which I believe many of those who voted to retain the Seanad want. I am always conscious that all Senators are here as a privilege because people across the country who do not have the right at present to vote for the Seanad, nonetheless voted to retain the Seanad as a signal that they wished it to exist to serve a function. I believe that was a signal that they want to be involved in the Seanad. To keep faith with that wider constituency we need to step up and say we are here on sufferance and a promise of reform and we need to deliver that.
An election was almost called before Christmas and it would be unfortunate if we were to go back again to the electorate without having moved forward in any meaningful way on Seanad reform. I hope we will have a wider debate about local democracy, which is important, as well as a specific debate about the implementation of the Manning report. There are some other measures in terms of the electoral process at which we might look. It is most regrettable that there is no supplementary register for the Seanad. It is unusual in that regard and very different from either referenda or the Dáil election. If, for example, an election had been called before Christmas, those who would vote in any of the university or other panels would have had to register 18 months ago. That is not right. We need to have a system in place. Practical measures are required. I am just highlighting the issue in that context and I look forward to the rest of the wider debate. My colleague will debate other points on specific amendments on Committee Stage.
This Bill is specifically about the Dáil. It is nothing to do with the Seanad. Members should not get confused because that is a totally different debate although it might be very worthy. I was indulgent in allowing Senator Higgins to mention it.
I will be very brief. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, to the House. Like my colleague Senator O'Mahony, I welcome Ballinrobe back into the constituency of Mayo. I was hoping that all the parts of County Mayo which are in the Galway West constituency would have been brought into County Mayo under the new boundary review. Be that as it may, we welcome that more than 4,000 votes in the Ballinrobe and Kilcommon area back into Mayo.
Senator Paddy Burke must be running.
It is a declaration.
When is the selection convention?
I wish to raise two issues. People have to state where they are on the night the census is taken. People say that favours Dublin constituencies because all of the hotels, guest houses and other such accommodation in Dublin are full on the night of the census. Is that taken into account for the constituency boundaries? If it does, it surely militates against rural constituencies. I would like clarification on that point because it has been brought to my attention on a number of occasions that it could well be the case.
In some city constituencies the number of people per Dáil seat is much less than in some rural constituencies. In County Mayo, for instance, the number of voters per Dáil seat is 30,000 plus while in some cities, it is as low as 28,000. The number of voters per seat in the cities could be greater and it could be reduced in rural areas. I urge the Minister of State to take that issue into account the next time the boundaries are being examined.
I am reminded of the last two times I filled in a census form. On one occasion I was in Glendalough as I was canvassing for the Seanad and I had to fill it in there because that was where I was on the night. The last time I was in Sandyford. The census had nothing at all to do with the beautiful place I come from. It is an interesting point. Perhaps the Minister of State can respond to it.
I thank Senators for their contributions. I join with Senator Murnane O’Connor in welcoming back the good people of Hacketstown, Rathvilly, Clonmore, Ticknock-----
-----and a few other such places. I look forward to visiting them but hopefully not too soon.
Senator Kieran O’Donnell gave examples of places in his constituency that have moved out and other places that have moved back in. Pretty much every speaker touched on similar points. The terms of reference under which the commission must operate are such that to avoid such situations, we would have to change the Constitution. Senator O’Mahony mentioned a sense of place. I feel the county boundary structure is worth considering, should we have a constitutional amendment. Senator Warfield also made valid points about further protection for identity, therefore allowing for greater variance in population. There is a lot to be said for that. However, I disagree with Senator O’Mahony’s point about population not being paramount. The Lower House must be representative population-wise but there are other factors that need to be weighted more heavily. Senator Kieran O’Donnell mentioned the 5% margin of error. I am inclined to agree with him. Some Senators acknowledged in their contribution that the commission produced a report in the most extraordinarily tight circumstances. Hence, there are a lot more small breaches of county boundaries. Some breaches have been solved, for example, in Carlow-Kilkenny and in Clare. Other breaches have been partly solved, for example, in Mayo, but others have been created. There was no way they could have been avoided. I did not say it in the other House but I commend those who did it because they get a lot of stick. They got some stick here today for the job they had to do. They could have come up with no other result given the terms of reference that were set out.
Senators Warfield and Higgins spoke about Seanad reform. I am not really in a position to say anything yet other than watch this space. It is my intention to act in that particular regard in the near future.
Senator Buttimer launched a vicious attack on the commission. He listed out the names of streets in Cork that should have been in different constituencies. I looked at the changes in Cork myself. It appears that wherever a commission starts its work has knock-on effects on other parts of the country. It is a fact that there were changes that might seem obvious to some people in Cork that did not happen. Something that has been missed by most speakers in the Second Stage debate is that there is an amendment in section 5 to section 6(2)(a) of the 1997 Electoral Act, which will mean that the next terms of reference will be looking at a Dáil of between 166 and 172 Members.
That was the reason for the delay in implementing the result of the census and therefore this commission report. That change had to be made.
I commend the franchise section who are here almost en masse today because there are only nine people in it. When there is a referendum or a presidential election the franchise section becomes the electoral commission for the country and they are remarkable people. Like me they are nerds for statistics and figures but they do a very good job in difficult circumstances. I think I am correct in saying there are only nine people. That is one reason why this has been a bit slow but also we want to ensure the legislation stands up, not just in terms of the next Dáil to be elected but that the parameters for the next terms of reference will be such as to allow leeway along the lines we have discussed.
Senator Higgins and others spoke about the need for a debate on electoral reform in general and I would very much welcome it. If the Leader wants to have one in the new year I will be ready, willing and able. I have addressed the issue of a sense of place being important.
On the question of town councils, the Cathaoirleach is familiar with the nature of the multi-seat constituency that we all occupy in the Lower House and often the greatest competition is internal to our parties. My great competitor for most of my political career was the present Commissioner Phil Hogan.
He saw Deputy Phelan off.
Many of the issues we fought on went on for years.
One of the best decisions he made was to abolish the Victorian system of town councils, which ensured that in some towns there were two ballot papers and someone could be elected on 40 votes, while in the rest of the country there was one ballot paper. An urban focus on those electoral areas has to change and that is included in the terms of reference for the revision of the local electoral areas. Towns with a population of 15,000 will now have an electoral area based on the town and its immediate hinterland. The smallest, for example, is Killarney, which has a population of 14,500. Under the terms of reference, hypothetically, it will have a five-seat electoral area which will be called Killarney town district. There is no reason we cannot avoid the duplication that existed in a ridiculously outdated and antiquated system where the town boundaries were so small and at variance with the towns we know now. We are modifying those and focusing on towns for the upcoming local elections. The good example I was given was Ennis in County Clare. It used to have a nine-seat town council and elected seven county councillors. In the eight-seat area that it is now, only three councillors live in the town. After the next revision it will be a six or seven seater in the town but six or seven councillors will be in the town of Ennis. It will be the same in other towns across the country.
The other issue that arose was the question of communities being divided. What is included in the local election terms of reference, which I would encourage Senators to also study is the need to keep communities together, that sense of identity. The southside of Dublin has historically been good at this because the urban villages are generally in individual electoral areas. The northside of Dublin is horrific. I think Drumcondra is almost in four different electoral areas but it is included in the terms of reference this time, that urban villages, as well as rural communities, should be kept together in the same district, in so far as that is possible because it is not always possible. Lines drawn on a map have to reflect population but there may be some wiggle room to ensure that logical communities, such as Senator Buttimer mentioned in the southside of Cork city, would be in one constituency. I fully concur with those sentiments.
In response to Senator Paddy Burke, the figure the commission operates from is the place of usual residence on the census form.
Senator Higgins mentioned the supplementary register. The register of electors for the educational institutions is administered by them. They have the responsibility. I do not think they are prohibited from having a supplementary register.
I can discuss it another time with the Minister of State.
The Senator should feel free to email me with details but as far as I know each institution is responsible for its own register.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?