I propose to take Questions Nos. 295 to 299, inclusive, together.
Article 16 of the Constitution sets out clearly and distinctly the overarching requirements that apply to the membership of Dáil Éireann. In addition, and complementary to the constitutional provisions of Article 16.2 in particular, Part II of the Electoral Act 1997 (as amended) provides for a constituency review following each Census of Population and establishes, among other things, the terms of reference of a Constituency Commission.
In very broad terms, 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, under section 9(1) of that Act, 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 timing for the publication of both preliminary census results and final census results are matters for the Central Statistics Office but typically have taken place within approximately 3 months and 12 months respectively of the holding of the census.
Notwithstanding the above, in January of this year, Minister O'Brien and I published the General Scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill. The general scheme addresses a number of commitments in the Programme for Government - Our Shared Future including the commitment to establish a statutory Electoral Commission. The general scheme has been published on my Department's website at www.gov.ie/en/publication/34cf6-general-scheme-of-the-electoral-reform-bill-2020/. The Bill is included on the list of priority legislation in the Government's current legislation programme and I expect that it will be published and will commence its progress through the Oireachtas in the new year.
The Electoral Commission will be independent of Government and will report directly to the Oireachtas. Following its establishment, it will, among other matters, take on several existing statutory electoral functions from the outset, including the work currently undertaken by Constituency Commissions.
In September 2020, the Government, on the advice of the Central Statistics Office, decided to postpone the 2021 Census due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The next census is now due to take place on 3 April 2022. The next review of Dáil and European Parliament constituencies will commence following the publication of preliminary census results, will be undertaken in compliance with our constitutional requirements and will be completed in accordance with the statutory timeframe.
Unlike the position for Dáil and European Parliament constituencies, there is no constitutional or legislative requirement for the revision of local electoral areas.
Section 23 of the Local Government Act 2001 empowers the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage 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 publication of Census of Population data is one of a number of factors that 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 from time to time. 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.
Similar to the approach outlined above for the review of Dáil and European Parliament constituencies the General Scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill provides that, following its establishment, the Electoral Commission will take on the work currently undertaken by Local Electoral Area Boundary Committees. No decision has been taken at this point in time in relation to a review of local electoral area boundaries in advance of the next local elections in 2024.