THE RESULTS of the latest census are likely to lead to a dramatic overhaul of Limerick’s political constituencies, with the controversial experiment of merging West Limerick and North Kerry expected to be reversed.
The fall in the population of the city and a simultaneous rise in the population of the county has also raised the unprecedented possibility of the city being reduced to a three-seat constituency, with the number of TDs in the county being increased to four.
The future make up of Limerick’s political boundaries will be known when the Constituency Commission, which is chaired by Mr Justice John Cooke, publishes its final report, which is expected in late May or early June.
Fine Gael TD for County Limerick, Patrick O’Donovan, said that the accepted wisdom across all parties is that Kerry North-Limerick West will be scrapped.
“This was a total gerrymander that blew up in their faces. It was unjustifiable and shouldn’t have been allowed in the first place”, he said of the decision to create the three-seat constituency in 2007.
Incidentally, Limerick’s political future is likely to be decided by what happens in Kerry, which is currently made up of two three-seat constituencies. Even before the census figures were published, a consensus had emerged that Kerry will become a single, five-seat constituency.
This is based on the Constituency Commission’s terms of reference to seek a reduction in the number of TDs in Dail Eireann, potentially from 166 to 158.
If Kerry is earmarked for a reduction in the number of TDs, the 13,352 people from West Limerick who are in Kerry North-Limerick West will have to be brought back into County Limerick, due to constitutional rules on the ratio of TDs per head of population.
If West Limerick is brought back into the three-seat County Limerick constituency, which already has a population of 81,679, it will be pushed over the maximum threshold of no more than 30,000 people per TD. That means that if West Limerick is re-united with County Limerick, it will either have to be given a fourth TD – most likely at the expense of the city – or it will have to give a section of old Limerick East back to Limerick City.
Politicians from across all parties and constituency boundaries accept that this ‘domino effect’ will have a dramatic and uncertain impact on Limerick’s future.
Fianna Fail TD for Limerick City, Willie O’Dea, said that “everybody seems to be of the opinion, apart from the Healy-Raes” that Kerry will become a five seater. He added that if Limerick City is to maintain four seats, it may have to be given part of the old Limerick East – potentially Doon, Cappamore and Pallasgreen.
His party colleague in County Limerick, Niall Collins TD, said that he is already “working on the basis” that West Limerick is to be brought back in, and suggested that there is “a school of thought” that the county may now earn a seat at the city’s expense.
Arthur Spring, Labour TD for Kerry North-Limerick West, said that the “quite striking” amount of support that West Limerick people gave the sole Limerick candidate, John Sheahan, in last year’s election suggests that they want to return to Limerick.
“People obviously felt disenfranchised going into a new constituency. Obviously, no one wants to see voters disenfranchised”.
He added that until the Constituency Commission reports, he will work on the basis that Kerry North-Limerick West remains a single constituency.
Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris, also of Kerry North-Limerick West, said that it is becoming the “consensus” view that Kerry is to be merged.
“Many people would agree that Kerry being one constituency would make sense. Obviously, it would be quite difficult for the TDs themselves”.
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