The unofficial Constituency Commission Report

On Thursday, the CSO revealed Ireland’s new population of 4,757,976 and a new population per TD of 30,114 – just above the constitutional limit of 30,000. It means we need to increase the number of TDs.

There are currently 158 TDs, down from 166 in the last Dáil. This was a response to the economic crisis. Fine Gael promised a reduction at the 2011 election and implemented it in government. It did so by pushing the constitutional boundary, and now that the population has risen, we find ourselves outside it.


The Constituency Commission

On Thursday evening, Minister Simon Coveney established a Constituency Commission to examine the new population data, determine the optimal number of TDs and re-draw boundaries to effect this change. The Commission is chaired by a Judge and has four other members. It will take submissions from the public over the coming months and report its findings. The Dáil must then enact the new boundaries.


The terms of reference of the Commission are worth noting:

  • It can only set a number of TDs between 153 and 160. Since 158 is in breach of the constitutional limits, a Dáil of 159 or 160 seats must be chosen. I assume 160. An even number is often chosen to avoid use of the Ceann Comhairle’s casting vote.
  • It is asked not to breach county boundaries when re-drawing. This is never always followed.

It is also apparent that the Commission attempts to keep the variance in population per TD between +/-5%. It therefore ensures that no constituency is over/under-represented compared to the national average.



The CSO has determined the population per TD in each constituency as follows:

existing cons pop


25 of 40 constituencies breach the constitutional 30,000 limit, however this isn’t relevant. The last Commission created a number of “breach” constituencies, but the overall national total was under 30,000.

We can see from the table that the North Dublin constituencies of Central and North West are most under-represented. It is therefore likely the Commission will recommend one extra seat in this region. It is also apparent that the Kildare-Laois region is under-represented. This is closely followed by South Dublin, and the North West border constituencies.


160-seat Dáil

As mentioned, I assume the Commission goes for the maximum increase and adds two TDs. The national population per TD therefore falls to 29,737. The two regions receiving TDs in this exercise will be North Dublin and the Kildare-Laois area.

Note: In the below analysis I refer to “DEDs”. These are the smallest level region and should be thought of as the “building blocks” of constituencies. They also piece together to form LEAs which are used for local elections. It is ideal for LEA and constituency boundaries to align.

Note: The below analysis is one of countless options for boundary change. The Commission will inevitably make slightly different changes.

Note: Apologies for the large map file sizes below. If some don’t appear, just click on the thumbnail to view them.


Constituencies with no change

The following constituencies see no change.

cons no chnge


North Dublin


  • Dublin Fingal loses area on its southern border. Specifically:
    • Balgriffin DED moves into Dublin Bay North; and
    • Dubber and Airport DEDs move into Dublin North West.
  • Dublin Bay North loses Drumcondra South A and Clontarf West E to Dublin North West.
  • Dublin West loses Phoenix Park and Ashtown B to Dublin Central.
  • Dublin Central loses Cabra East A, Cabra West A, Cabra West B and Drumcondra South B to Dublin North West.
  • Dublin North West becomes a 4-seat constituency, having gained the above-mentioned DEDs.

This is one available option for North Dublin. One less DED can move from Central to North West while maintaining fair representation. Alternatively, Dublin Central could receive extra land and gain a seat instead of North West. A more radical solution would give four seats each to Central, North West and Bay North.


South Dublin


This is a re-balancing to avoid under-representation in Dublin Rathdown:

  • Stillorgan-Leopardstown and Foxrock-Torquay move from DL to DR; and
  • Clonskeagh-Belfield and Stillorgan-Mount Merrion move from DR to DL.

A swap can also be done with Dublin South West although it is preferable not to breach the DLR county boundary. DL and DR were encompassed within this boundary at the last boundary review. There are other ways to re-balance between DL and DR however this appears to be the optimal solution.


Kildare-Laois area


  • Tipperary: The following DEDs move out of Tipperary to allow for the Kildare-Laois changes:
    • Roscrea;
    • Rathnaveoge;
    • Timoney;
    • Bourney West; and
    • Bourney East.
  • Laois-Offaly: This is a new 5-seat constituency. A constituency of the same name existed prior to the 2012. Its boundary includes:
    • The above mentioned DEDs from Tipperary;
    • The existing Offaly constituency;
    • County Laois (ex-Portlaoise and areas to its east, south of Emo).
  • Kildare Laois: This is a new 4-seat constituency. It is an extension of the existing 3-seat Kildare South. Its boundary includes:
    • County Laois (those areas not included in Laois-Offaly above);
    • County Kildare – Athy LEA; and
    • County Kildare – Kildare-Newbridge LEA (excluding the DEDs of Rathangan, Killinthomas, Lullymore, Cloncurry, Kilmeage North, Kilmeage South and Robertstown)
  • Kildare North: Now 5-seats, encompassing those parts of County Kildare not in Kildare-Laois.

The extra seat here pushes some constituencies towards over-representation. While this is regrettable, further constituencies would need to be involved to rectify this, leading to the breach of county lines in either Kilkenny, Wicklow, Meath or Westmeath. Alternatively, the Commission may opt to keep Offally as is, and just modify boundaries between Tipperary, Laois and Kildare.




I move the Ballybricken DED from City to County. Without this change, Limerick County is over-represented.


Galway area


  • DEDs south of Ballinasloe (all within the Ballinasloe LEA) move from Galway East to Roscommon-Galway. Alternatively, more northerly DEDs could move.
  • DEDs east of Oranmore and Claregalway move from Galway West to Galway East. Alternatively, DEDs near the Mayo border could move.
  • DEDs south of (and including) Gort move from Galway East to Clare. Alternatively, DEDs nearer to Portumna could move.


Cork area (optional)


Cork East and Cork South Central require no adjustment.

The remaining Cork constituencies also require no adjustment, however North-Central and South-West are nearly at the 5% over/under-representation limit. It is prudent to rectify this:

  • Teadies, Templemartin, Brinny, Ballymurphy and Knockavilly DEDs move from North-West to South-West.
  • Gowlane, Dripsey, Firmount and Matehy DEDs move from North-Central to North-West.

There are countless other DEDs which could also move to balance populations.


Cavan (optional)


Cavan is currently divided between the 4-seat constituencies of Sligo-Leitrim and Cavan-Monaghan. Without adjustment, Cavan-Monaghan is nearly at the 5% limit for under-representation (4.5%). DEDs surrounding and including Berturbet are moved into Sligo-Leitrim.



As mentioned, the above is one set of possible moves to achieve a balanced 160-seat Dáil. There are many others. The Commission will ultimately decide.

It is surprising to see the upper-limit for this review set at 160. It would be more prudent to:

  • Raise the number of TDs to 170/180; or
  • Run a referendum to change the 30,000 limit.

Both changes would “future-proof” the Dáil. Instead we’re moving from review-to-review with the bare minimum of changes made, just to keep things constitutional. We can do better than that.

Dublin West 2016

Map C Dublin 2016Dublin West is a 4-seat constituency situated north of the River Liffey and mainly comprises areas west of the M50 along with Castleknock. At the most recent boundary review, Phoenix Park and areas north of the Navan Road were added into the constituency.

This constituency is unique in having had TWO by-elections over the last four years. In one sense we have a rich pool of data to work off, however as we will discover, this only serves to reveal the volatile nature of this constituency.



Result Links:

LE – Castleknock 2009Mulhuddart 2009Castleknock 2014Mulhuddart 2014.

BY – Dublin West 2011 , Dublin West 2014.

GE – Dublin West 2011.

Note: Castleknock and Mulhuddart comprise the vast majority (89%) of the population of this constituency and are the basis for calculating the LE results above. The new areas added are roughly one quarter of the Cabra-Finglas LEA. The 2014 results reveal some interesting trends however we must be cautious in assuming that these trends hold in this particular corner of the ward.


Outgoing TDs

Leo Varadkar – Fine Gael – Minister for Health

Joan Burton – Labour – Tánaiste/Minister for Social Protection

Joe Higgins – Socialist Party

Ruth Coppinger – Socialist Party


Coppinger was elected in May 2014 and Joe Higgins has made known his intention to retire at the next election. The two government TDs will both contest this constituency, one of two constituencies (Limerick City being the other) where two cabinet ministers share the same constituency.



In a 4-seat constituency, the quota for one seat is 20% of the votes cast.

Fine Gael

Leo Varadkar photographed by Kevin AboschWhile the 2014 by-election only produced 13% support for Fine Gael, the local elections saw the party winning 17% of the vote. The recent rise in support for Fine Gael suggests that the party should be comfortably above the 20% threshold which would return Leo Varadkar as a TD for the third time. Likely to accompany Minister Varadkar on the ticket is Senator Catherine Noone. Previously a councillor for the South Inner City, Noone now identifies as a Dublin West Senator. There is no prospect for a second seat here since the balance of votes between the two candidates will likely weigh heavily towards the Health Minister. Instead there should be a sizeable level of transfers from Senator Noone, something that may benefit Joan Burton who will be fighting for her seat.


Joan-Burton-Election-picThe fortunes for Labour in this constituency have been poor since 2011. At the end of that year the party held two seats, Joan Burton and Patrick Nulty who was elected following the death of former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan. Soon after becoming a TD Nulty voted against the government over the 2012 budget, and later resigned over the sending of inappropriate messages. His seat was won by Ruth Coppinger and Labour’s vote fell to around 6%.

Despite these difficulties however, there remains hope for the Tánaiste and a number of factors will help her:

  1. Increased government popularity (Labour reaching 10% in recent polls)
  2. Transfers from Fine Gael
  3. Vote boost from newly added areas. (Labour polled 13% in Cabra-Finglas compared to 7% elsewhere in DW. Caution on this factor discussed above.)

The Tánaiste is likely to run on her own to preserve her chances.

Fianna Fáil

qES4tAyeThe chart above reveals enormous stability in the Fianna Fáil vote here, despite its fall from power in 2011 and subsequent stagnation. The party is keen to win back the seat once held by Brian Lenihan and has selected young Councillor Jack Chambers to run. Mulhuddart Councillor David McGuinness fought both by-elections for the party and ran at the last election. His failure to be selected prompted his resignation from the party soon after the selection of Chambers, leading many to believe that he will contest as an independent or under the banner of another party.

If McGuinness contests as an independent, he will risk Fianna Fáil’s chances at winning back its seat. However otherwise, it would appear likely that Fianna Fáil will have the votes to retain one seat.

Sinn Féín

PD-GazetteComing from a base of 6% in 2011, Sinn Féin’s vote saw a meteoric rise to 21% at last year’s local elections. The stability of this vote is untested however if national polls remain strong for Sinn Féin, it is likely that Mulhuddart Councillor Paul Donnelly will become a TD in 2016.

A worst case scenario for SF would be a resurgence for Labour in the Mulhuddart area and a boost for Socialists that would see Joan Burton and Ruth Coppinger re-elected, but Donnelly denied a seat. Considering that the “working class” areas of Dublin West have become a smaller component of this constituency through the addition of new areas, it is extremely unlikely for all three to take seats. We will return to this predicament below.

Socialist Party

RCWith two outgoing TDs, one would get the impression that the Socialist Party vote is on the rise in this constituency however the data reveal a different picture. Since 2009 the Socialist Party vote here has remained static or declined. At the time of writing, it is likely that Coppinger will produce enough votes to retain her seat, however the prospect of a weakening Water Charge movement, and resurgence for the government parties may leave her seat vulnerable in 2016.

Green Party

Castleknock Councillor Roderic O’Gorman has represented the Green Party here since 2004 and was elected to Fingal County Council in May 2014. His vote share sees incremental rises at every election however the Green vote here is coming from too low a base to be considered a contender in 2016.


davidhallTraditionally a poor constituency for independent candidates, this changed in 2014 with mortgage campaigner David Hall contesting the by-election. Winning an impressive 13% of the vote, Hall should not be dismissed entirely from winning a seat. The vote for Independents and Others remains buoyant however Hall will need to surpass either Chambers (FF) or Burton (Labour) to win a seat, not impossible, but unlikely at this point.

Other candidates

No other candidates have declared for this constituency yet. Keep an eye on Adrian Kavanagh’s website for new candidates.


There exists only one certainty at this election, and that is the re-election of Leo Varadkar. Putting aside his seat, who is in contention for the remaining three seats?

  • Joan Burton TD – Labour
  • Cllr. Paul Donnelly – Sinn Féín
  • Ruth Coppinger TD – Socialist
  • Cllr. Jack Chambers – Fianna Fáil
  • David Hall – Independent

In assessing this conundrum further, some generalisations are required about the location of the candidates in question. As has been mentioned, Dublin West is divided between the largely middle class local electoral area (LEA) of Castleknock, and the largely working class LEA of Mulhuddart. There are of course exceptions within each. We can assign our candidates accordingly:

  • Castleknock – Chambers (FF), Hall (IND)
  • Mulhuddart – Donnelly (SF), Coppinger (SP)
  • Mixed – Burton (Labour)

Joan Burton previously represented the Castleknock ward (1999) however previous local elections would suggest that Labour’s vote is higher in the Mulhuddart LEA. For this reason she has not been assigned to one area over another.

With Leo Varadkar based in the Castleknock areas, it is fair to assume that a candidate from Mulhuddart also wins a seat. With this in mind, I predict that Paul Donnelly from Sinn Féin will secure a seat.

The remaining two seats then become a toss up between Labour, Fianna Fáil, Socialists and Hall. The contest is essentially one of Labour vs Socialists in Mulhuddart, and Chambers vs Hall in Castleknock. The larger certainty here is that Fianna Fáil continues to hold its support and wins a seat.

The final seat then becomes a contest between Burton and Coppinger. If the election were held today I would give the seat to Coppinger however the recovery in the economy should see Labour regain enough support to keep its seat here in 2016. It is essentially a question of when the election is held.

  1. Varadkar (FG)
  2. Donnelly (SF)
  3. Chambers (FF)
  4. Burton (Labour)


Alternative scenarios

  • David McGuinness runs as an independent. His candidacy draws votes away from Chambers and denies Fianna Fáil a seat. David Hall receives strong transfers from a fellow independent candidate and takes a seat. This is dependent on strong support for independents, a trend which may reverse by 2016.
  1. Varadkar (FG)
  2. Donnelly (SF)
  3. Hall (IND)
  4. Burton (Labour)
  • David McGuinness runs as an independent and David Hall does not stand. Under this scenario McGuinness would draw enough votes away from Chambers to deny him a seat and many of his transfers would stay near his Mulhuddart base. These transfers would benefit Donnelly and Coppinger.
  1. Varadkar (FG)
  2. Donnelly (SF)
  3. Coppinger (SP)
  4. Burton (Labour)
  • Government supports remains low and Joan Burton loses out to Ruth Coppinger.
  1. Varadkar (FG)
  2. Donnelly (SF)
  3. Hall (IND)
  4. Coppinger (SP)
  • Sinn Féin support declines sharply and Ruth Coppinger receives a larger number of votes from the Mulhuddart areas.
  1. Varadkar (FG)
  2. Coppinger (SP)
  3. Chambers (FF)
  4. Burton (Labour)


Note: Candidates are not listed in any particular order but will often mirror their likelihood of election. The order of seat assignment and the number of first preference votes are beyond the scope of this analysis, especially when parties run multiple candidates.


Update 12/04/2015: – An earlier version of this article stated that Dublin West was the only constituency with two cabinet ministers. Limerick City also holds two cabinet ministers (Noonan and O’Sullivan).