The Potential Impact of the Dáil Constituency Boundary Changes

The Potential Impact of the Dáil Constituency Boundary Changes

January 5, 2024

The Potential Impact of the Dáil Constituency Boundary Changes


Rory Sweeney, Senior Account Manager at Heneghan, provides a concise note on the potential political impact of the recent Electoral Commissions report on the Dáil constituency boundary changes in Ireland.


Most people won't have been excitedly refreshing the Electoral Commission's website when it recently announced the Dáil constituency boundary changes, twitching deliriously while trying to get a hold of the new 155-page report online. However, for us political nerds, it was like the release of the Barbie film, something we have been waiting eagerly to see. Every piece of news and gossip in the run up to the report's release was hungrily devoured by us anoraks.


So, what were the main changes and how is it likely to impact the next General Election, which will be scheduled not later than March 2025.


Unlike many countries, who find it questionable to have system of changing constituency boundaries so regularly, Ireland has strict constitutional requirements on the number of TDs we need per head of population and how they should be distributed across multi-seat constituencies. After each census which occur at five-year intervals, the constituency boundaries are reviewed and changed according to how the population has shifted.


The details of these changes have been widely discussed and in this brief analysis, I want to highlight some broader changes of national significance, rather than focus in on the minutiae of geographical changes.


For our non-Irish readers, a TD (Teachta Dála) is a member of Dáil Eireann, the Irish Parliament. Firstly, there will be fourteen more TDs in the next Dáil, bringing the total to 174. This changes the arithmetic required for forming a government, with eighty-eight now becoming the magic number for a majority. Parties will now be trying to figure out their route to this majority; how many of the new seats they can win; and where they need to concentrate resources. The number of Dáil constituencies increases from 39 to 43.


Secondly, and perhaps most significantly, the number of three-seat constituencies has risen from nine to thirteen. This is important because it favours larger parties. The addition of these three-seaters changes the strategy for parties in these areas, as each party is now realistically only looking at getting one candidate elected. With the momentum firmly behind Sinn Fein, this will likely hurt it most as it decreases its chance of getting a second candidate elected, while improving Fine Gael and Fianna Fail's chances of retaining seats.


The next important element of the changes is which counties are receiving new seats and which are not:

  • Dublin gains five new seats
  • Cork gains two seats
  • The new Wicklow-Wexford constituency adds a seat to the region
  • Tipperary gains one seat
  • Galway gains one seat
  • Kildare gains one seat
  • Meath gains one seat
  • Mayo gains one seat
  • Longford-Westmeath gains one seat
  • Laois-Offaly being split into two 3-seat constituencies means they gain a seat


Counties gaining seats means they are now more significant electorally than they used to be.


There have been no extra TDs added to Cavan, Carlow, Clare, Donegal, Kerry, Kilkenny, Leitrim, Limerick, Monaghan, Roscommon, Sligo, Waterford.


The third element to consider is candidate selection. As the number of seats available and constituencies to contest increases, parties need to run more candidates. This is often an overlooked aspect of Irish General Elections, as good candidates with local name recognition are extremely hard to find. The Irish electoral system of PR-STV favours strong individual candidates more than other systems such as the UK's single seat first-past-the-post system, which favours larger parties. Sinn Fein's result in the 2020 election was a stunning exception to this rule, but good candidate selection will be crucial. Also, with more candidates running, each party will have to run more female candidates to comply with the 30% gender quota rule, which has been a struggle for some parties. Failure to comply will mean large cuts to their funding, something they will be keen to avoid.


Overall, it is hard to read how the boundary changes will play out. Changes at a local level will impact individual candidates greatly, as the loss of 100 votes or even less can be most decisive, but you can expect all parties to be affected somewhat equally by these. Nationally, it will take time and detailed analysis to see the impact of boundary changes against other factors such as the Government's performance, the performance of party leaders, the economy, housing, and each party's own electoral strategy. And of course, how these are reflected in the opinion polls.