Sinn Fein councillor Martin Kenny has called for the terms of reference set by the Government of the Constituency Commission to be changed so that counties such as Leitrim, with very small populations, will not face the prospect of being split.
“Of course Leitrim, the county with the lowest population in the country, shouldn’t have been split in the first place and this comes down to the terms of reference set by Government for the Commission. These rules are too restrictive and are still causing problems in other counties and could in the future affect Leitrim again,” he warned.
“In 2004 we were told the splitting of Leitrim was due to the Commissions reluctance to put three counties into one constituency. In the second report four years later, when they made it even worse, they claimed they didn’t want to cross provincial boundaries. However in this report they have turned both of these on their head and put four counties into one constituency and crossed provincial boundaries.
“The reason behind all of this messing about, is the terms of reference set by Government. They need to be changed. At present the Commission are asked by Government to come up with constituencies with between 3 and 5 seats. Not allowing the consideration of 6 or 7 seats restricts the possibilities and results in the taking of bits of a county and adding in as a top up for population requirements.
“The other big issue is the percentage of variance allowed on the population per TD which is far too tight and with varying population growth and regrettably fall (with emigration) it again leads to chopping and changing of boundaries. In a few years time these new constituencies could all change again, unless these restrictive rules are broadened.”
Cllr Kenny said, “For the sake of democracy and stability, the people of a constituency should know what the electoral area is and will be into the future. We need a lasting solution to this ongoing problem, where the number of TDs in a constituency could go up or down, without the geographical area having to change at all in rural areas and very little in urban areas.”
He said allowing 6 or 7 seaters and greater population variance would provide the solution.
“The Irish Constitution allows up to 7 TDs in a constituency, so there is no problem with this. The present limit set on population per TD needs to be increased. The present interpretation of the Constitution by Government is that this cannot be done, this needs to be re-examined and if necessary, amend the constitution, to bring it into line with the needs of the electorate and the stability of the system. Unless this issue is seriously tackled, Leitrim could be split again in the future, therefore I am calling on the Government to amend the restrictive rules and the terms of reference for future Constituency Commissions,” concluded Cllr Kenny.