Speculation is rife this week as to the fate of Longford and Leitrim after information on the latest Boundary Commission Report was leaked to the media at the weekend. However, boundary changes are not the only matter on the cards, because it is envisaged that there will be a reduction of eight Dáil members - thus reducing the number of seats in some constituencies - but where will those seats be lost and which counties will have their public representation at national level reduced the most are the questions that were on speculators minds last Monday.
Rumours began circulating on Sunday that Westmeath could be merged with East Offaly, a move which would possibly leave Longford hanging in the balance, while the integration of the section of north Westmeath that is currently in the Meath Constituency, back into Longford/Westmeath would surely impact negatively on Longford because of the 2:1 ratio of population that would emerge in favour of Westmeath. Also while the possible reunification of Co Leitrim would, no doubt bring music to many natives ears, its return in its entirety with Sligo, east Galway or even Cavan/Monaghan could see a reduction in seats in those regions.
Senator Paschal Mooney spoke to the Leader on Monday about the possibilities and said he expected that the report will be published very shortly.
“A new Sligo/Leitrim four seater constituency would mean that Donegal will be reduced to a five seater because of surplus votes in Bundoran and Ballyshannon,” the Leitrim native explained. “So Leitrim could be integrated there or there could be a new four seater in the form of Sligo/Leitrim and West Cavan. There would be a population of about 97,000 in Sligo/Leitrim and a population of around 161,000 in Donegal; in Cavan Monaghan a surplus of 14,000 or 15,000 would arise. Because there is going to be a reduction by eight in the overall number of Dáil seats, it might not be the most logical decision to take a seat out of Donegal or indeed Cavan/Monaghan for that matter.”
According to the Irish Constitution, there must be a minimum population/TD ratio of 20,000 (Tolerance Level) and Senator Mooney pointed out that, because of the reduction of seats, that Tolerance Level would be required to increase to 29,000. “Therefore in Sligo/Leitrim there would be a surplus of 10,000 and in Donegal the surplus would be roughly 16,000,” he added. “That’s 26,000 surplus and therefore a Sligo/Leitrim Constituency could work. Back in Cavan/Monaghan there would be a surplus of 15,000, so the Sligo/Leitrim surplus of 10,000 combined with that would also work. However, then you would have a situation where there would be a loss of three seats in those areas. At this stage, I would be confident that Leitrim will be returned as one entity, at the very least.”
There has also been the mention that Westmeath would be returned with East Offaly or that north Westmeath would return to the Longford/Westmeath Constituency.
According to Senator Mooney, whatever happens, the constituency appears to be one that is not likely to lose any seats in the reduction. “Population wise, there are 34,391 in Longford and 79,346 in Westmeath; that’s a tolerance level of 28,000,” he confirmed.
So, if north Westmeath was re-integrated back into Westmeath, then, within the Longford/Westmeath constituency there would be a 2:1 population ratio for Westmeath. I’d say that it is reasonable to speculate that this is exactly what could very well happen in Longford/Westmeath and that it will be one of the constituencies that will retain its seat allocation of four.”