Constutuency changes: Gerard Fitzgibbon examines the local impact of the recently published report of the Constituency Commission

THREE years after Limerick’s constituency borders were chopped into pieces, prompting a mass bout of cross-party head scratching, local politics is to revert back to sixty years’ worth of status quo after the next general election.

THREE years after Limerick’s constituency borders were chopped into pieces, prompting a mass bout of cross-party head scratching, local politics is to revert back to sixty years’ worth of status quo after the next general election.

The decision of the five-person constituency commission to recommend that Limerick should once again be divided into two constituencies has been broadly welcomed by local TDs.

The commission’s report, published last Thursday, has done away with the controversial and unpopular Kerry North-Limerick West experiment, which has been described as everything from inconvenient and illogical to an act of pro-Kerry gerrymandering.

The report has also recommended that a large tract of north east Limerick, including Murroe, Caherconlish and Cappamore, should be moved into the Limerick City constituency, which retains four seats.

The three-seat Limerick county constituency has lost 11,197 people in the east, but gained 13,352 people from Athea, Abbeyfeale, Tournafulla, Mountcollins, Glin and Ardagh.

The net effect of the commission’s changes will see Limerick essentially move back to the Limerick East/Limerick West divide which had been in place from 1947 to 2009, albeit with one less TD.

The final changes to Limerick’s political borders had been widely expected since the latest census figures were published earlier this year. The constituency commission, which was chaired by Mr Justice John Cooke, was handed a specific remit by the Government to seek the reduction of the number of TDs in the Dail.

The combined population of Kerry and Limerick is 343,171, which can be covered by twelve TDs and still meet a constitutional rule stipulating that there can be no more than 30,000 people per TD. However, there are currently thirteen deputies across both counties. Kerry, with six seats spread across two constituencies, was identified from the start as being one area where a saving could be made.

The decision to create a single five-seat constituency in Kerry had an inevitable ‘domino’ effect on Limerick, as Kerry would have to lose the 13,352 Limerick people in Kerry North-Limerick West in order to be reduced to five TDs.

However, this would make the Limerick county constituency too populous for just three TDs, and reducing the city to three TDs and adding a fourth to the county was considered too radical a solution. As a result, the commission decided to return ten of the 19 electoral divisions in north east Limerick – a total of 11,197 people - to Limerick city.

What the changes will mean for the political prospects of sitting and aspiring TDs in the city and county is unclear, though smaller party candidates and Independents are likely to be squeezed.

Sinn Fein’s Cllr Maurice Quinlivan, an urban candidate who pushed hard for a seat in Limerick City at the last election, may have difficulty securing support in rural areas. While Independent candidate John Dillon topped the poll in Cappamore, Bilboa and Killinure and polled very strongly in Murroe last time out, his was primarily a farming vote which will likely return to Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

Sitting city TDs Michael Noonan, Willie O’Dea, Jan O’Sullivan and Kieran O’Donnell will have no problem re-acquainting themselves with parts of the old Limerick East where they have all fought and won elections in the past.

In the county, the return of rural West Limerick will be a significant bonus for Fine Gael’s Patrick O’Donovan, a Newcastle West native who represented most of the area as a county councillor for almost a decade. His party colleague, Dan Neville, is a popular figure who has been contesting general elections in West Limerick since 1987, while Niall Collins now has a clear run at a traditional Fianna Fail vote in West Limerick which would once have been split with former TD John Cregan.

The de facto move back to the Limerick East/Limerick West model has been welcomed by sitting TDs. Finance Minister Michael Noonan said that he was “pleased” to have an extra ten political divisions to canvass. Fianna Fail TD Willie O’Dea said that he was happy to have much of his old Limerick East stomping ground back. “In fairness to the commission, they went about their business in a far more logical manner than their predecessors”, he added.

Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan said the move was “very positive”, while Fine Gael’s Kieran O’Donnell said that Limerick is effectively returning to old boundaries “that functioned very well for a long period of time”.

Fine Gael TD Dan Neville said that the scrapping of the “absolutely ridiculous” Kerry North-Limerick West “brings back the integrity of democratic representation in the county”.

Niall Collins said that people in West Limerick were “very aggrieved” at being moved into Kerry, and unanimously approve of moving back into their home county.

Patrick O’Donovan said that he “never agreed” with the Kerry North-Limerick West experiment, and locals will be “delighted” at being able to vote in their home county once again.