Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Questions (245)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

245. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the anticipated timelines for the establishment and reporting of the Dáil constituency commission, the European elections constituency commission and the local elections constituency commission, given that, with the Statistics (Census of Population) Order 2020, the next census will take place in April 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2814/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Reviews of Dáil and European Parliament constituencies are linked to the publication of Census of Population data. In effect, the publication of preliminary census results triggers the establishment of a Constituency Commission under section 5(1) of the Electoral Act 1997 with the Commission required to present its report on Dáil and European Parliament constituencies to the chairman of the Dáil within three months of publication of final census results. The next review of Dáil and European Parliament constituencies will commence following the publication of preliminary census results following the Census of Population proposed for April 2022. The timing for the publication of both preliminary census results and final census results are a matter for the Central Statistics Office but typically take place within 3 months and 12 months respectively of the holding of the census.

Census data also informs the preparation of terms of reference for any review of local electoral areas to be undertaken and provides a basis for the work of any Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee(s) which may be established by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage from time to time. Section 23 of the Local Government Act 2001 empowers the Minister to divide a local authority area into local electoral areas and to amend those areas. However, in advance of deciding to make an order under section 23 of the Act, the Minister must, in accordance with section 32(2) of the Local Government Act 1991, request a boundary committee to make a report having regard to such matters as may be specified by the Minister. The Minister must publish the report of the boundary committee and must have regard to the report of that committee when deciding to make an order in relation to the revision of local electoral area boundaries. Ultimately, the timeframe for the making of the report will be determined by the boundary committee's terms of reference.

On 15 December 2020, the Government approved the drafting of an Electoral Reform Bill and the circulation of the Bill's general scheme to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage for pre-legislative consideration. The general scheme addresses a number of commitments in the Programme for Government - Our Shared Future relating to the establishment of a statutory Electoral Commission, the modernisation of the electoral registration process and the regulation of online political advertising during election periods. It also includes proposals aimed at assisting with the holding of electoral events where Covid-19 restrictions are in place. The general scheme was circulated to the Joint Oireachtas Committee last week and has been published on my Department's website at www.gov.ie/en/publication/34cf6-general-scheme-of-the-electoral-reform-bill-2020/.

The Electoral Commission will be independent of Government and will report directly to the Oireachtas. Following its establishment, which is envisaged by the end of this year, it will take on several existing statutory electoral functions from the outset, including the work currently undertaken by Constituency Commissions and Local Electoral Area Boundary Committees.