The shifting sands of our constituencies

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

The shifting sands of our constituencies

PUT it down to an unresolved identity crisis, if you will, but like a lot of people I know, I’m a bit territorial. I’m not like Brian Boru now, mind you, always on the look-out for invaders coming up the Shannon in longboats trying to annexe the lands on which I’ve been living for nearly 40 years.

But every time I meet a successful woman farmer working an agricultural enterprise on her own, I get a bit wary and think of Queen Maeve of Connacht and all the trouble she caused over the brown bull of Cooley. Sorry ladies, it’s the territorialism in the genes kicking in!

Long before the ill-fated boom began at all, I was feeling a bit vulnerable living so close to the county bounds, especially when the late lamented auctioneer, Harry Brann, told me one day that it was only a matter of time before Limerick City would reach out as far as Birdhill - while Ballina and Killaloe would become posh city suburbs. I’ll be living in a bubble yet, I said to myself.

Now the threat is real, with the constituency Commission recommending the annexation of parts of Tipperary around Newport and Birdhill for transfer to the Limerick City Constituency for electoral purposes.

Despite my long and happy connection with the city, and despite Willie O’Dea’s exuberant welcome to his turf, I’m not one bit pleased at the prospect of being taken over. My husband has a field in Birdhill and a bit of a bog in Annaholty – which moved physically all by itself, 150 years ago - so you can’t say that I don’t have a vested interest in this Constituency ‘cut and paste’ plan.

I fear it’s just the first step to extending the city boundary in an eastern direction.

At this point, without prejudice to the generality of the overall issue, I must remind everyone living in the effected zone that the property tax is higher in Limerick.

So watch out!

It’s all very well to tell me that I’m paranoid and that this is not a re-settlement. But while the land is not about to be taken over, I may have to move house.

According to the Commission’s recent report, a total of 4,400 voters have been earmarked for transfer to the new Limerick City Constituency, and since the population of Newport in the last census was just 1,806, I greatly fear that Ballina will be included in the transportation order, if the figures are to add up.

This will have terrible consequences for my own personal vote, and if I was really paranoid, I’d say they were out to get me because of my long time loyalty to Michael Lowry.

They can’t disenfranchise me because of my political views, but they can put me in a different constituency where I won’t be able to vote for the candidate of my choice.

As well as that I’d be worried that my Limerick City representatives would not understand my particular needs and might give priority to their own people.

For all that, I have to admit that we here in this neck of the woods in North West Tipperary, have much more in common with Limerick city than we have with, say, the remote stretches of our current Constituency around Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel. We’re so far apart that we don’t even speak with the same accent and the only thing we have in common with them is the hurling, whereas Limerick city has been our metropolis for generations. We’re all Dalcassians at heart, here in the Mid-West.

The vast majority of the names and faces on the 2016 ballot paper presented to me at the polling booth were complete strangers to me and I don’t even recall any of them coming to this outback of the Constituency to canvas a vote. The constituency is so vast that I count myself lucky to even have met three of my five Dail representatives, even if a couple of them have since forgotten me.

All this chopping and changing of Dail constituencies to cater for changing population trends is very unsettling to say the least. At the end of the day, I’m not even sure if Limerick wants us - in spite of Willie’s warm reception.

We can be very demanding, you know, and very opinionated at times.

The identity issue should not be dismissed too lightly either. All this disruption of constituencies is bad for morale and doesn’t do anything at all for our engagement, or lack of it, with the political system. We’re already very confused about who we are and where we are. Even as I write, most of my own county and some of South East Limerick is littered with signposts indicating that we are all in the ‘Ancient East’. This is nothing more than a ploy to entice tourists to set foot beyond the Pale but it’s very disconcerting. The last time we had any real connection with the ancient East was when Brian Boru was crowned High King of Ireland and now we don’t even have a senior Minister in the Cabinet.

We’d all be better off with fewer TDs in the Dail in the first place, but if constituencies have to cross county bounds to ensure equal representation for all, numerically, then it might be a better idea to just number each constituency or put some other label on them. County loyalties are too ingrained now to be part of any political expediency plan. Imagine having to say ‘I vote for Limerick and I hurl for Tipperary’.

In any case, some of us are so paranoid that you wouldn’t know what we’d do if, for one minute, we suspected any further dilution of our identity.