Friday, December 30, 2011

Review of Dail Constituencies (Part 5)

In this final part, (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) we come to the jewel in the crown, the crème de la crème, the pièce de résistance, Dublin. Ok, so it ain't all that, but for the amateur constituency maker it provides the greatest opportunity for creativity while still remaining within the guidelines laid down by the legislation. In keeping with the rest of my carve up, we will be maximizing the number of large constituencies. So lets take a look at how the 44 seats allocated to Dublin can be best divided to create eight 5-seaters and a single 4-seater.

To paraphrase Caesar, Dublinium est omnis divisum in partes duo. The Liffey forms the boundary between the Northside and the Southside and so we will follow suit and maintain this boundary. North of the Liffey there are just under 580,000 residents while just over 690,000 people live South of the river. Dividing the allocated seats proportionately we get 20 TDs for the Northside and 24 TDs for the Southside. This means we will create four 5-seaters on the Northside with four 5-seaters and a single 4-seater on the Southside. The map here shows my proposed boundaries.

North Dublin

Currently there are 6 constituencies with 21 seats in North Dublin. In the infamous Tullymander, the Dublin area was divided into many 3-seaters. Then for the 1981 election the boundaries were redrawn to create 4-seaters in urban areas. However, due to dropping population levels compared to the rest of the country, over the last 30 years each of Dublin North-East, Dublin North-Central and Dublin North-West have been reduced to 3-seaters, losing territory to neighboring constituencies to minimize the population variance. I propose that the current boundaries are not fit for purpose and suggest that it is now time for a major redrawing, ignoring the requirement for continuity as it is the least important requirement in the legislation.

Starting at the top, the major issue in Dublin in the last redraw was the division of Swords between Dublin North and Dublin West. I propose this be reversed and that Swords-Forrest rejoin Dublin North. The addition of Portmarnock, Balgriffin and the Airport will bring Dublin North up to the required level of population for a 5-seater. What remains of the existing Dublin North-East should then be merged with almost all of the existing Dublin North-Central to form another 5-seater which I am going to call Dublin North-East. The only transfer required here is the DED of Drumcondra South A out of the new constituency.

On the 2011 census figures, the existing Dublin Central already has just about sufficient population to warrant remaining a 4-seater in our reduced 160 seat Dáil. However, we are aiming for 5-seaters so we need to transfer in around a total of about 30,000 people which we will take from the existing Dublin North-West constituency along with Drumcondra South A which we have already ditched from the new Dublin North-East. By absorbing most of the Ballygall and Whitehall DEDs along with Ballymun C and Beaumont A we get a total population of just under 147,000 which is fine for a 5-seater.

This leaves the remains of old Dublin North-West (Finglas and Ballymun mainly) and old Dublin West (Blanchardstown and Castleknock). These areas combined have a population of almost 146,000 which again is just right for a 5-seater. I am calling this area Dublin West, but it could just as easily be called Dublin North-West. This completes the division of Dublin north of the Liffey.

South Dublin

Moving to the Southside, we need to create four 5-seaters and a 4-seater from the existing mix of two 5-seaters and four 4-seaters. This represents a loss of two seats and one constituency. There are several ways to carry out this division but I feel that the cleanest is to disband the existing Dublin South-Central constituency and divide its territory into its neighbours, bringing each up to the required population level.

Starting in Dún Laoghaire, we are short about 0.3 TDs worth of population to maintain the constituency as a 4-seater. I propose returning some of the DEDs on the western side of the N11 back from Dublin South that were transferred during the last boundary review, namely Foxrock-Carrickmines, Cabinteely-Loughlinstown and Shankill-Rathmichael. This provides an increase of about 15,000 in population which brings the constituency in line with the requirements for a 5-seater.

Having lost 15,000 to Dún Laoghaire, Dublin South finds itself needing a similar increase in population to keep its 5 seats. This can be achieved by adding Firhouse-Village. This allows us to retain the Dodder as the northern boundary of Dublin South for most of its length. This border also means that for Dublin South-East to move from a 4 to a 5-seater it must expand westwards into the old Dublin South-Central. This requires adding the DEDs of Merchant's Quay and Ushers as well as the areas of Crumlin C, Kimmage C and Terenures A and B. This serves to unite the south city centre into a single constituency, much as Dublin Central serves the entire north city centre, while also retaining some balance between high and lower density areas by uniting Harold's Cross and most of Terenure into a single constituency.

Dublin Mid-West then expands eastwards into Kilmainham, Inchicore and Crumlin as well as taking all of Clondalkin-Monastery. To keep the population within limits we need to transfer the semi-rural DEDs of Newcastle, Rathcoole and Saggart to Dublin South-West. This leaves Dublin Mid-West at 147,000 which is acceptable for a 5-seater. The transferred DEDs along with the remainder of the old Dublin South-Central (mainly Walkinstown and Templeogue) when added to Dublin South-West give us a constituency with just over 139,000 which, although slightly lower than average, is still acceptable as a 5-seater. It should also be noted that some of the DEDs in the new Dublin South-West had population increases of between 22% and 51% since the previous census and so it is expected that the variance will decrease over time.

Dublin Summary

The table shows the population and variance of each of the new Dublin constituencies. As we expect most of the constituencies have a slightly positive variance. This is due to the region being under-represented by 0.4 TDs which was felt a reasonable thing to do to increase slightly the representation in Connacht/Ulster earlier on.

Local Tweaks

One thing that needs to be checked is the precise alignment of the boundaries of constituencies with the boundaries of the DEDs. This is because, in most cases, the DEDs pre-date a lot of development, especially in suburban areas in Dublin. For example, in the map here, we have a close up of the boundaries between my Dublin South-East, Dublin Mid-West and Dublin South-West constituencies. The logical divider should be the Crumlin Road from the Canal to the Children's Hospital and then the Drimnagh Road and Long Mile Road as far as the Naas Road.

However, the marked area to the north of the Long Mile Road is actually part of the Walkinstown A and Clondalkin-Ballymount DEDs which straddle the main road. In this case it would be sensible to split the DEDs and put the parts on the north side of the road into Dublin Mid-West, leaving the parts on the south of the road in Dublin South-West. Due to the land use (mainly commercial and industrial) not much population would change with this modification but it would make the boundary between the Dáil constituencies much clearer.

Similarly the section of Crumlin Road near the canal actually bisects the Crumlin C DED. Again it may make more sense for the constituency boundary to follow Crumlin Road rather than turn left onto Herberton Road. However, this would result in some population shift between Dublin South-East and Dublin Mid-West so care would have to be taken not to put Dublin Mid-West over the 30,000 people per TD limit. This would be possible with access to the Small Areas database which is more fine-grained than the DEDs.


In this series I have shown that the Constituency Commission can tackle the problems associated with 3-seater constituencies without breaking too many of the guidelines set out in their terms of reference. The table shows that I have managed to reduce the number of 3-seaters from 17 down to 2. The quantity of 4-seaters has also been reduced from 15 to 11 while the number of 5-seaters has doubled from 11 to 22. These posts will be amalgamated into somewhat coherent English and submitted to the Commission in the coming days. I hope that they will follow my lead and try to consign the 3-seater to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review of Dail Constituencies (Part 4)

Leinster (excluding Dublin)

Compared to the shenanigans required to get Connacht/Ulster to work, Leinster outside of Dublin turns out to be fairly straightforward. The table here shows the number of TDs per county based on a 160 TD Dáil with a total of 43 to be distributed across the region.

The southern counties arrange themselves neatly into three 5 seaters. Wexford is pretty much spot on for 5 seats, Carlow and Kilkenny combined are slightly over the required population for 5 but not by much, and Wicklow on its own is slightly below, but again not by much. In the current constituencies the north-eastern DEDs in Carlow are transferred across to Wicklow to balance up the populations more exactly. This is easy to do but I believe that the desire to avoid breaches in the county boundaries is stronger than tweaking the population to reduce variances.

Since the foundation of the state the constituency of Laois-Offaly has existed, initially as a 4 seater but for most of its history as a 5 seater. However, due to substantial population growth, the area is now entitled to 5.5 TDs in a 160 seat Dáil and so some territory needs to be shed. In the previous arrangement the most southerly DEDs in Offaly were transferred to Tipperary North. However, I want to keep the provincial borders intact and so propose removing a total of 7 DEDs from Portarlington to Edenderry from Laois-Offaly and adding them to Kildare. With these additions, Kildare's total representation increased to 8 in total. By moving the Robertstown and Downings DEDs from the existing Kildare North into Kildare South and adding the DEDs from Laois-Offaly to Kildare South as well we end up with three well balanced constituencies.
In the last boundary review, two DEDs around Drogheda were added to Louth as it was determined that they had more in common with the town than with the rest of Meath. If these remain in the Louth constituency then no changes need to be made to allow the constituency retain 5 TDs. This population transfer is not sufficient however to create a 5 seater of the remainder of Meath. I propose transferring the western DEDs of the county from Oldcastle, through Athboy and down to beside Kinnegad across to an expanded Longford-Westmeath constituency. This then forms three 5-seaters covering the northern end of the province.

This map shows my division of the non-Dublin section of Leinster, comprising of seven 5-seaters and two 4-seaters. A summary of the new constituencies is contained in the table. As can be seen the maximum variance occurs in Carlow-Kilkenny and Wicklow which as mentioned previously can be remedied if required by transferring DEDs from Carlow to Wicklow.


Munster lies somewhere between Leinster and Connacht/Ulster in terms of difficulty to arrange into new constituencies for a 160 seat Dáil where the emphasis is on creating larger constituencies. Three counties, namely Clare, Kerry and Waterford are nicely populated to form constituencies in their own right with 4 seats for Clare and Waterford and 5 for Kerry. I am sure that there will be calls to retain two 3-seat constituencies in Kerry but this would only be possible with a transfer of in excess of 20k people into either or both constituencies. Instead, with just over 2k people above the average, Kerry as a whole is properly represented as a 5-seater.

Cork's population entitles it to 18 TDs in our reduced size Dáil. At present there are two 3-seaters, two 4-seaters and a 5-seater in the county so overall one TD will have to be cut. I propose a significant redrawing of the boundaries within Cork, with the aim of removing as many 3-seaters as possible. To that end, I start by creating a Cork City constituency covering the City Council area along with the northern suburban DEDs of St Mary's, Rathcooney, Riverstown and Caherlag. Next I create a Cork South constituency covering the suburbs of Douglas, Ballincollig and Carrigaline as well as the towns of Cobh, Kinsale and as far down the coast as Clonakilty. The existing Cork East is expanded to take in the more rural parts of the existing Cork North-Central. The remained of the county is merged into Cork West along with the transfer of Mallow from Cork East to Cork West.

This leaves Limerick and Tipperary to sort. Limerick is entitled to 6.6 TDs and Tipperary to 5.6 neither a particularly good number. However, were we to transfer approximately 10k from Tipperary into Limerick then we could make a 5-seater for Tipperary, and split Limerick into a 3-seater for the city area and a 4-seater for the country. The areas I have chosen to move are those around Birdhill and Ballina which have essentially become commuter towns for Limerick city.

The table shows the population and variance for each constituency in Munster. As can be seen we have minimized the number of small constituencies, remained within county boundaries except in one situtation and have kept the variance in population within acceptable bounds. Further minor tweaks could be made to the boundaries to further minimize the variance within Cork and between the two Limerick constituencies.

In the final part of this series I will tackle Dublin and then make some overall conclusions about my choices across the country.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review of Dail Constituencies (Part 3)

Constituency Sizes

In the previous two parts (here and here) we have established that in the current review the target number of TDs should be set to 160. However, the Commission is free to create 52 three seat constituencies or 32 five seaters or any combination between those extremes. It is my strong personal belief that larger constituencies are better in the PR-STV system as they increase the proportionality of the set of representatives elected.

In the extreme case of single seat constituencies, where PR-STV degenerates into AV, a party could win 49% of the vote in every area and still not win a single seat. This result is highly unlikely of course but the system makes it possible. As the number of members elected by each constituency is increased the proportion of votes . Since the commission is limited to 3, 4 and 5 seat constituencies, I will try to maximize the number of larger constituencies and only use 3 seaters where absolutely necessary to try and fulfill the other requirements placed on the Commission by the legislation.

Division by Region

Taking the 2011 census figures region by region we see that the number of TDs per region should be as follows:

This table starkly shows the growth in population in the Dublin commuter belt compared to the rest of the country. Despite losing 6 TDs from the Dáil, this region actually gains representation. It also shows how few TDs should be assigned to the vast area of Connacht/Ulster, reflecting the relatively low population density in the North and West of the country. Finally, we can see that after the re-drawing, Dublin will still remain the key battleground in any General Election with the largest share of seats up for grabs in the capital.

As a child, my grandmother talked about giving homework a "quick death" by doing the simple things first. In modern management speak that'd be picking off the low hanging fruit. But that always ended up leaving me on a Sunday night with both an Irish and an English essay to write. So this time I'm taking on the toughest task first.


This is by far the trickiest region to divide into constituencies. The guideline to remain within county boundaries conflicts directly with my desire to minimize the number of 3 seat constituencies. To this struggle we add the relentless calls for the re-unification of Leitrim into a single constituency. This has been a major issue in the public consultation of both this and the 2006 constituency review. To help ease the pressure I am adding the fractional TDs from Dublin and Munster to the Connacht/Ulster. This will bring the total number to be allocated up to 30.

Galway West and Galway East both retain enough population to maintain their current representation of 5 and 4 seats respectively. To rebalance the constituencies more precisely, a total population of about 1200-1500 in one or two of the most easterly districts, Aughrim, Stradbally, Deerpark or Bellville could be moved from West to East but I deem this an unnecessary change in the overall scheme.

In a 160 seat Dáil, Mayo is entitled to 4.6 TDs and Roscommon is entitled to 2.2 TDs or a combined total of 6.8 TDs. I propose creating a 4 seat Mayo and a 3 seat Roscommon-East Mayo constituency. This involves transferring about 18k people from Swinford and Ballyhaunis to form the East Mayo section of the three seater. This leaves both constituencies slightly below the average ratio but within acceptable levels.

The Cavan-Monaghan constituency should have 4.6 TDs. I propose leaving this area with 5 deputies despite that putting them 6.8% below average representation. The alternative would involve moving sections of West Cavan into a constituency with Leitrim or acquiring sections of neighbouring counties in Leinster, neither of which is overly satisfactory.

This leaves Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal. Between them the three counties have an entitlement to exactly 9 TDs which I will divide into a 5 seater covering most of Donegal and a 4 seater covering Leitrim, Sligo and the southern part of Donegal around Bundoran and Ballyshannon.

As can be seen from the table above, six of the seven constituencies have a negative variance, indicating that they are slightly over-represented compared to the national average. However, as mentioned previously, this is expected as we have assigned an additional 0.8 TDs to the region to compensate for the large geographical area.

In the next post I will tackle some lower hanging fruit in the shape of Leinster (excluding Dublin) and Munster.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review of Dail Constituencies (Part 2)

Part 1 of this series can be found here

Terms of Reference

The terms of reference of the Constituency Commission are set out in the Electoral Act of 1997 with subsequent amendments. It lays out fairly clearly the scope within which the Commission have to act in preparing their report.
  1. The number of TDs shall be between 153 and 160. This is a reduction from the original range of 164-168. As far as I know, in previous reviews the Minister issued a further instruction to keep the number of TDs static at 166. This is the first time that the Commission has had free reign to chose the final number of TDs for the country.
  2. All constituencies must have 3, 4 or 5 TDs. Gone are the days of 8 and 9 seaters which may be for the best.
  3. Constituencies must remain within county boundaries if possible. It always amuses me that we are so wedded to the English imposed system of counties, especially the strength county identity has in politics and the GAA. But people seem to like voting along county lines so we try to match our dividing to the pre-existing, arbitrary carve up.
  4. Each constituency must be contiguous. This is a good thing™ as enclaves and exclaves just make for confusion.
  5. Constituency boundaries should be aware of geographic features such as rivers, mountains and major roads and use them appropriately. There is also mention of awareness of population density which I'm not really sure about. Does it mean that each constituency should try to have the same density, which I don't think could work, or that the population density across a constituency should try to be uniform - ie keep urban areas together in one constituency and rural in another?
  6. There should be some consistency between the constituencies before and after the review. This rules out a wholesale redrawing of the map. I'm not surprised this was added by politicians when drawing up the legislation as who wants to have to learn about a whole new constituency every election. However, it does rule out a project like eliminating 3 seaters entirely.
The current review faces a few contradicting instructions due to the change in the overall number of TDs. They mainly come about from the continuity clause, which, it must be noted, is subordinate to all the others.

There are two ways to reduce TD numbers. Firstly you can reduce the number of constituencies by splitting say a four seater and divesting its territory into three surrounding constituencies while only adding a single new TD to each. The alternative is to keep the number of constituencies fixed and turn 5 seaters into 4 seaters and 4s into 3s while shuffling a few DEDs around to keep the population ratios in check. The former is directly at odds with continuity but the latter reduces the overall representativeness of the Dáil.

European Constituencies

While Ireland is historically divided into 4 provinces, for European electoral purposes the split is done slightly differently - Dublin forms a constituency on its own, Munster minus Clare is called South, Leinster minus Dublin, Longford and Westmeath forms East and then Connacht, Ulster along with Clare, Longford and Westmeath make up the North West constituency. With only twelve seats to be distributed that makes each constituency a three seater. The table below shows the distribution of population in each of the four regions.

As can be seen, Dublin is under-represented compared to the rest of the country with only the South region being close to the average. However, in a four way split, there is no straightforward way to remedy this without sub-dividing Dublin further, perhaps moving the Dublin North constituency into East.

An alternative solution that substantially reduces the variance is to re-draw the boundaries to form three constituencies of four seats each. In this scheme I create East, North and South. East consists of Dublin and Kildare. I then extend a line across the south border of Laois and Offaly as far as the Shannon and then down the river to the sea. All counties above the line form the North constituency with those below forming South. The numbers for this division are shown below.

While East is now slightly over represented at the expense of the other two regions, the variances are much smaller. The North constituency now also stretches from Malin Head to Abbeyleix, but considering the existing North West already goes as far as Cratloe outside Limerick it's not much longer. While it may not suit the North candidates to have to canvass such a large area, as the Presidential election showed, even on a small budget, a campaign can cover a large area if properly planned.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review of Dail Constituencies (Part 1)


The boundaries of electoral constituencies are not carved in stone. As populations change in areas and the desired ratio of population to politicians changes so too must the boundaries. In the past this activity was in the direct control of the Minister for the Environment (or more accurately the Minister for Local Government at the time) but after incidents like the Tullymander in the 70s this power was passed off to an independant commission in the Electoral Act of 1997. The Constituency Commission is headed up by Justice Cooke and includes the Clerks of the Dail and Seanad, the Secretay General of the Dept of Environment and the Ombudsman.

Following the preliminary results of the census in April, the Minister has instructed the Commission to have another look at the Dáil boundaries, specifically asking them to reduce the number of TDs to between 153 and 160. There is currently an open call for submissions to the Commission and this series of blog posts will be distilled down to something vaguely coherent and sent to them on my behalf. The closing date is sometime in mid January so other interested people have time to do some thinking. It seems at the moment that the unify Leitrim and Swords campaigns are going to dominate the submissions.


The preliminary 2011 census figures put the population of Ireland at 4,239,848 which is up 341,421 (8.1% over 5 years or 1.6% per annum) from the 2006 census total. While the Commission can only work on exact figures from the CSO and not projections, as detailed in the 2009 Electoral Act, it is worth looking a bit forward. The next General Election is not scheduled until February 2016, but it is possible that date may be brought forward to Summer 2015 to allow for better campaigning weather and higher turnout. The table below outlines the potential population per TD over time under four growth models: 1.6% per year as national population increased 2006-11, 1.4% per year as Dublin population increased 2006-11, 0.8% - half the national rate, and 0.7% - half the Dublin rate.

The cells in red mark the points at which the representation falls outside the thresholds mandated by the constitution of between 20,000 and 30,000 people per TD. As can be seen, even in the lowest growth model, reducing the number of TDs to 156 would cause problems come 2015. Using the highest growth model, we are in trouble almost immediately at the lower range of TDs and even by 2015 having 160 TDs would be too few for the constitutional limits. After the 2016 census will likely have to increase the number of TDs again to get the ratio back below the 30,000 limit. Of course there is nothing preventing either a specific referendum or the forum on the constitution from modifying the ratio in which case the issue may disappear.

Ideal number of Politicians

For many, the ideal number of politicians is either zero ("they're all useless") or one ("put me in charge as dictator"). However, studies have shown that most national parliaments have a number of members in line with the cube root of the population. In Ireland's case this turns out to be 161.85 national politicians. Were the proposed dissolution of the Seanad to happen, it would turn out that the Dáil as currently constituted would be pretty close to the ideal number of members. A reduction to 160 would be perfectly acceptable but the more we cut the further away from the ideal we get.

In announcing the formation of the Commission, Minister Phil Hogan claimed the review would be a "real, tangible reform" making the system "leaner and more efficient for its citizens". Now in all honesty, does the Minister really think that cutting the number of TDs is a real reform? All it does is reduce representation to save money. I would much rather a cut of 10% in the costs of running the Oireachtas than a cut of 10% of its members. But I guess he has to take a fairly populist line in this era of austerity and have politicians being seen to be taking the pain alongside the little people.

Coming Next

In the next few posts I'm going to have a look at how a potential 160 seat Dáil might be constituted, taking a fairly high level view of the provinces and going into a bit more detail in the Dublin area where I have a better understanding of the lie of the land.

Part 2 here.

PS - If anyone has any great experience of using qGIS or other free shapefile modifier please get in touch to help me draw some pretty maps of my carvings! The CSO kindly provide population and geographical breakdowns of every DED in the country for personal and educational use but I'm a bit lost at sea!