Connacht Tribune - Opinion Piece
Boundary revision cannot be seen as carve-up to cushion the GovernmentOctober 31, 2012 - 9:22am
No constituency in the country, save for Dublin South, took as big a savaging in the constituency boundary changes as Galway East.
While Dublin South did lose two seats to Galway East's one, the consequences down west were the electoral equivalent of '127 Hours' – the movie based on the true story of a mountaineer who was forced to cut off his arm after getting pinned down by a boulder.
The whole eastern and north-eastern part of the constituency – some 20,000 people including the entire population of Ballinasloe – was lopped off to retain the country integrity of Roscommon. Unfortunately, in doing so, the country integrity of Galway was compromised, and very badly so.
The loss of a seat for Galway East was part of a complicated jigsaw of changes affecting the three counties of Galway, Mayo and Roscommon where Mayo and Galway East lost out, Galway West survived and Roscommon won.
In a sense it was unavoidable. The new Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan was determined to reduce the numbers of TDs by the maximum extent (correctly in my view).
With the number of Deputies being reduced by eight to 158, and with big population growths in the eastern seaboard, western counties were always going to be the losers.
It's the biggest constituency carve-up since Jimmy Tully's infamous Tullymander in 1973. That was designed to maximise the number of seats won by Fine Gael and Labour candidates but it backfired spectacularly. Fianna Fáil won the 1977 general election with a landslide notwithstanding Tully's electoral engineering.
This time Hogan does not have an ulterior motive. Indeed, no matter how you look at it, most of the new five seat constituences – Kerry, Donegal, Dublin Bay North, Fingal (Dublin North), Dublin South West, and Tipperary – will all favour Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein.
Indeed, when you look at who's vulnerable in the game of musical chairs caused by the loss of eight seats, you have to say that six, maybe seven, will be Fine Gael or Labour TDs.
And, while on paper Cork South Central dropping from five to four looks like leaving Fianna Fáil in trouble, its two TDs are party leader Micheal Martin and its rising star, finance spokesman Michael McGrath. I would be gobsmacked if the party didn't retain both seats there.
In the next general election there will be 40 constituencies. And only eight of the 43 that are there at present have remained untouched. The knock-on effect is that the number of three-seat constituencies will be 13 instead of 17 and the number of four-seat constituencies will be 16 instead of 15.
I already discussed the consequences of electoral changes for Mayo in a column a few weeks ago. Fine Gael will lose one TD, possibly two there. It's going to be the same in Dublin South where the loss of two seats will mean the loss of two Government deputies and possibly a third (because Shane Ross has the safest seat in the country).
Cavan/Monaghan is being reduced to four. That's a Fine Gael loss. Similarly, in the new five seat Dublin Bay North there are five sitting Coalition TDs, three from Labour. A loss of two is likely here.
Fine Gael's Paschal Donohoe is in the danger zone in the new three-seat Dublin Central, as middle-class Navan Road has been zapped over to Dublin West.
Fine Gael may be vulnerable in the new five-seater Tipperary, while it is independents who look the chanciest in the new five-seat Kerry.
The pattern won't be much different for Galway East. There are three Government TDs in the constituency at present and – unless something very strange happens – one of them is going to lose out.
When you look at the new boundary, you would think that it's Fine Gael's Paul Connaughton and Fianna Fail's Micheál Kitt who will struggle. Both are now living in, or the cusp, of the new Roscommon-Galway constituency.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.