CLARE’S four Dáil deputies who opposed the controversial boundary extension of Limerick City into South-East Clare opted out of the public consultation process initiated by the Constituency Commission, concerning over 4,300 Clare people who are forced to vote in Limerick East.
According to documents published by the Constituency Commission, Clare Deputies Pat Breen, Joe Carey, Michael McNamara and Timmy Dooley declined to make any public submission concerning the Clare four-seater Dáil constituency and, in particular, the anomaly affecting thousands of voters who must go outside the county to seek assistance from Dáil deputies.
This is despite the fact that 39 deputies including Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar, Health Minister James Reilly, Limerick East Deputy Kieran O’Donnell, Limerick West Deputy, Patrick O’Donovan, seven senators and 27 county councillors made submissions to the Constituency Commission before it made its final recommendations.
The Clare deputies also seemed to overlook the fact that the constituency falls below the commission’s threshold for the 29,040 national average population justifying a TD.
Limerick Deputy Niall Collins who proposed that Shannon Banks and Westbury should come under the jurisdiction of the new Limerick local authority told The Clare Champion he wasn’t surprised Clare deputies hadn’t made a submission.
In fact, he claimed this vindicated his argument that this area is a natural part of Limerick City where a lot of residents listen to Limerick radio stations and purchase Limerick newspapers.
According to the 2011 Census of Population figures quoted in the commission’s report, there were 11,336 people living in Clare, which translated into 27,834 per deputy or 4.15% less than the standard average.
The Clare Circuit Court office has confirmed there were 4,303 people on the register in South-East Clare who voted for Dáil hopefuls in Limerick East during the last General Election in February 2011.
Clare was one of the 11 constituencies where no change was recommended, despite the breach in the county boundary.
“The commission considered making these constituencies coterminous with the relevant county boundaries in light of the terms of reference and of the submissions received.
“However, to do so would either result in variances in some of the constituencies concerned, which the commission considered unacceptable or require changes in adjoining constituencies,” the commission stated.
Deputy Breen said he was anxious Clare would retain its four seats and didn’t want any redrawing of the boundary, which subsequently transpired in South Galway where Ballinasloe has been transferred into Roscommon and in other counties where there were significant breaches of the county boundary.
Asked why he didn’t make any submission seeking a return of almost 4,500 South-East Clare voters to the Banner County, he noted this would not result in the provision of an extra seat.
The Fine Gael deputy pointed out the boundary commission is an independent body, which arrived at its decisions without any political interference. He said he is delighted the county boundary remained intact following a decision taken by Environment Minister Phil Hogan refusing Limerick’s so-called “land grab” into Clare.
Deputy Joe Carey claimed Limerick City Council would have been allowed extend into Clare only for his political intervention.
“I lobbied Minister Hogan for the retention of the Clare county boundary and only for me, it could have been changed. The boundary issue was a Government decision but it is clear the Constituency Commission is an independent body, which has reached its own decision without political interference.
“Its independence is illustrated by the fact the Taoiseach’s own constituency in Mayo is reduced from a five to a four-seater constituency. I regret the fact that voters in South-East Clare have not been brought back into Clare for Dáil elections but this has been the case for over 20 years,” he said.
Deputy Timmy Dooley also claimed he lobbied for the retention of the Clare boundary and threatened to vote against any change to the status quo even when Fianna Fáil were in Government.
However, the Fianna Fáil deputy deliberately opted not to make any submission to the Constituency Commission because he felt it would be unwise in his own case to be calling for a change that would be seen to benefit him politically.
The East Clare deputy admitted it would benefit him because of his background and base, if almost 4,500 South-East Clare voters were returned to the Banner County.
He felt it would be seen as “self-serving” if he had made a submission making this request.
“This is different from the boundary issue as the Constituency Commission is an independent body, which makes its own decision without political interference.
“I felt it would be wrong if I had made a submission. However, I am not being critical or casting aspersions on any other Dáil deputy or individual who made a submission,” he stressed.
Deputy McNamara said he felt personally it wasn’t appropriate for him to make a submission to an independent body about an issue where he had a political vested interest, but noted it was up to other Dáil deputies if they felt this was appropriate.
“I don’t think it would have made a blind bit of difference if I had made a submission. If a large number of residents from a particular area made submission, it might make a difference,” he said.
Councillor Cathal Crowe, who issued a press statement in relation to the commission’s “disappointing” decision, also declined to make a public submission.
Councillor Crowe estimated up to 5,000 would continue to live in a political no-man’s land.
“There is enough of a population base in the greater South-East Clare area to elect their own TD but it now looks like this may be several years away,” he said.