Post-Reunification Representation

Since the triggering of Brexit, a lot of talk has been given, particularly by those in Northern Ireland, to the issue of Irish Reunification. It’s a touchy subject, but considering the majority of those in Northern Ireland who voted in the Brexit referendum decided to vote to stay In, it’s not unsurprising that the nationalists wish to capitalise on this pro-EU feeling. Their argument is not invalid – if Northern Ireland wishes to stay in the European Union, then clearly their only option is to reunite with the Republic of Ireland, and remain (or become) members that way.

It’s a move that would have some precedent – the EU accepted East Germany easily enough when it reunited with its Western kinsmen. But German reunification is altogether a different story to Irish reunification – a walk in comparison. Putting aside the obvious economic and social/cultural problems which would arise, I want to look at how Ireland would look politically in a post-reunification world. Germany, as a federal state, was so much more suited to the de-secession than Ireland, a highly centralised country, is or would be.

In terms of populace, Ireland’s population would increase by almost 40%[1]. These people would have to be given Irish citizenship, if not already claimed, PPS numbers, integration with the tax and social services, brought under the purview of the Health Service Executive, amongst many other things. And while it won’t be the most urgent priority, a significant issue that will arise almost immediately will be representation in the national parliament[2]. Unionists will undoubtedly seek re-assurance that they will be adequate representation in parliament, lest a return to the Troubles of the past would be in the cards.

Of course what is likely to happen is a period of two to three years before the actual date of reunification, allowing the Irish government to put in place necessary services, pass the required legislation and referenda etc. An Oireachtas Dissolution to allow brand new elections to take place to take into account the new required representations would also be necessary. And it’s this new Dáil that I am particularly interested in. What would it look like? What would government look like?

The Constituencies

Assuming that the Irish Constitution would be edited conservatively in any reunification deal, the new Dáil would have to a minimum of 221 seats[3] to accommodate the increase in population. This would be an increase of about 63 seats from our current number. Given the Northern Irish Assembly currently has about 90 seats this would likely be an immediate concern, particularly I imagine for unionists – not only are they to be governed by Dublin, with a minority voice, they’ll come away with even less seats then they currently hold. That said, however, there is manoeuvrability in the rules regarding seat proportionality, and the maximum number of TDs the new Dáil would be permitted to have is 331 – an increase of 173 seats. So there’s definitely room to allay objections or fears from the unionist side.

A Dáil constituency can have a minimum of 3 seats, and a maximum of 5. Currently, constituencies have a good mix of all three, with the maximum 5 seats tending to be allocated to constituencies that are comprised of more than one county or large swathes of Ireland (e.g. Carlow-Kilkenny, Donegal, Tipperary) or are massive urban centres with the population to warrant such a large number of seats (e.g. Dublin Bay North, Dublin Fingal, Louth). In order to meet the population requirements, and have a fair division of 3, 4, or 5 seat constituencies, occasionally constituencies will cross local government boundaries (e.g. Carlow-Kilkenny, Longford-Westmeath, Sligo-Leitrim), and some local government boundaries contain more than one constituency (e.g. Meath East, Meath West, Kildare North, Kildare South). This would be replicated when incorporating the territory that was Northern Ireland into Ireland as a whole, particularly should no local government boundary have the necessary population requirements for Dáil constituencies. Typically constituencies tend to have between 80,000 and 150,000 people, with 3 seats being allocated towards the lower end of the scale, and 5 towards the higher end.

I am using the local government authority boundaries and not the Westminster/Assembly constituencies purely for reasons of population – most of the Assembly constituencies have less than 80,000 people within them, yet all are 5 seaters. As I am assuming the minimum and maximum population requirements will not be adjusted in any constitutional referendum that may occur, using the local government districts allows for, what I believe, would be a more realistic and a much easier incorporation into Dáil constituencies. It’s also easier to divide the constituencies, should they be too big, into smaller ones (using the Westminster/Assembly constituencies as guides) rather than trying to scale up.

Initially it’s important to look at the current Dáil Constituencies, plus what would be the former Northern Irish Local Government Authorities plus their populations.

Constituencies Population
Antrim and Newtownabbey 140,467
Ards and North Down 158,797
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon 207,797
Belfast 338,907
Carlow-Kilkenny 151,492
Causeway Coast and Glens 143,148
Cavan-Monaghan 124,289
Clare 112,702
Cork East 121,269
Cork North-Central 124,699
Cork North-West 89,187
Cork South-Central 122,013
Cork South-West 85,028
Derry City and Strabane 149,473
Donegal 150,342
Dublin Bay North 120,562
Dublin Bay South 96,048
Dublin Central 152,830
Dublin Fingal 151,758
Dublin Mid-West 117,588
Dublin North-West 96,898
Dublin Rathdown 94,125
Dublin South-Central 119,121
Dublin South-West 150,816
Dublin West 122,507
Dún Laoghaire 123,149
Fermanagh and Omagh 115,311
Galway East 93,604
Galway West 154,816
Kerry 147,554
Kildare North 122,248
Kildare South 91,989
Laois 92,625
Limerick City 117,352
Limerick County 83,748
Lisburn and Castlereagh 140,205
Longford-Westmeath 120,533
Louth 150,481
Mayo 120,092
Meath East 91,151
Meath West 90,358
Mid and East Antrim 137,145
Mid Ulster 144,002
Newry, Mourne, and Down 176,369
Offaly 88,851
Roscommon-Galway 84,901
Sligo-Leitrim 118,818
Tipperary 149,593
Waterford 116,401
Wexford 149,605
Wicklow 146,833
Total 6,609,597

In terms of population, the Local Government Authorities in what would be the former Northern Irish state would actually mirror up quite nicely in terms of population with the sizes of existing Dáil constituencies without the need to disrupt boundaries, except in the cases where the population exceeds 150,000 in which case, the local authority would contain more than one Dáil constituency.

Going forward I am going to be taking a liberty and making some assumptions vis a vis Dáil constituency sizes. Namely, 5 seaters being the ideal, and 3 seaters being the exception rather than the rule. My reasoning is that historically the Irish state has tended towards representing the 30,000 maximum rather than the 20,000 minimum. In recent years the Irish government has proposed that the Dáil should not have any more TDs than necessary, and it therefore follows that that reasoning, as well as the history of the Dáil’s makeup, would continue after re-unification.

As this post is being made before the Republic of Ireland’s Constituency Commission has published their changes, it is subject to further edit at that time. However, based on Ministerial Orders, as well as submissions to the Commission, it is likely that the Dáil will be increased to 159 seats, from 158, and the extra seat going to Dublin Central (or Dublin North-West, but since Dublin Central is more, well, central, I will be basing it off that). Other existing Republic of Ireland constituencies that exceed 150,000 will be reduced via boundary changes.

Let’s take a look at the “new” Dáil constituencies in isolation.

Constituencies Population
Antrim and Newtownabbey 140,467
Ards and North Down 158,797
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon 207,797
Belfast 338,907
Causeway Coast and Glens 143,148
Derry City and Strabane 149,473
Fermanagh and Omagh 115,311
Lisburn and Castlereagh 140,205
Mid and East Antrim 137,145
Mid Ulster 144,002
Newry, Mourne, and Down 176,369

There are a number of constituencies that would not need any changes and could be slotted in straight away. These would be:

  • Antrim and Newtownabbey (5 seats)
  • Causeway Coast and Glens (5 seats)
  • Fermanagh and Omagh (4 seats)
  • Lisburn and Castlereagh (5 seats)
  • Mid and East Antrim (5 seats)
  • Mid Ulster (5 seats)

As Derry City and Strabane is close to tipping past the 150,000 mark (and the population information that I am working off is a projection), for ease it would be possible to make Fermanagh and Omagh a 5 seater if you took the Derg Electoral Area out of Derry and Strabane. This is worth about 15,000 people, bringing both constituencies to around the 130,000 mark. In this instance the constituencies would be:

  • Antrim and Newtownabbey (5 seats)
  • Causeway Coast and Glens (5 seats)
  • Derry City and Strabane (5 seats)
  • Fermanagh and Omagh (5 seats)
  • Lisburn and Castlereagh (5 seats)
  • Mid and East Antrim (5 seats)
  • Mid Ulster (5 seats)

Moving to Ards and North Down, the easiest thing to move some wards to Lisburn and Castlereagh, again to bring them both to the 150,000 mark and thereby Ards and Down becoming a 5 seater.

  • Antrim and Newtownabbey (5 seats)
  • Ards and North Down (5 seats)
  • Causeway Coast and Glens (5 seats)
  • Derry City and Strabane (5 seats)
  • Fermanagh and Omagh (5 seats)
  • Lisburn and Castlereagh (5 seats)
  • Mid and East Antrim (5 seats)
  • Mid Ulster (5 seats)

Now looking at Armagh City, Banbridge, and Craigavon, this can be split into two constituencies. If you take the Districts of Armagh, Cusher, and Portadown, you would come to about 90,000 and enough for a 3 seater – Armagh. The remainder of the constituency would come to about 120,000 and be enough for a 4 seater – Craigavon-Banbridge, making the new constituencies so far as:

  • Antrim and Newtownabbey (5 seats)
  • Ards and North Down (5 seats)
  • Armagh (3 seats)
  • Causeway Coast and Glens (5 seats)
  • Craigavon-Banbridge (4 seats)
  • Derry City and Strabane (5 seats)
  • Fermanagh and Omagh (5 seats)
  • Lisburn and Castlereagh (5 seats)
  • Mid and East Antrim (5 seats)
  • Mid Ulster (5 seats)

Coming to Newry, Mourne and Down, the districts of Newry, Slieve Gullion, and Crotlieve would come to enough for a 3 seater – Newry. The remainder would found another 3 seaters, perhaps called South Down.

  • Antrim and Newtownabbey (5 seats)
  • Ards and North Down (5 seats)
  • Armagh (3 seats)
  • Causeway Coast and Glens (5 seats)
  • Craigavon-Banbridge (4 seats)
  • Derry City and Strabane (5 seats)
  • Fermanagh and Omagh (5 seats)
  • Lisburn and Castlereagh (5 seats)
  • Mid and East Antrim (5 seats)
  • Mid Ulster (5 seats)
  • Newry (3 seats)
  • South Down (3 seats)

Lastly, we tackle Belfast. If you take the districts of Castle, Oldpark, and Court, you could have a 4 seater called Belfast North-West. The districts of Titanic, Ormistan, and Lisnasharragh would be another 4 seater – Belfast North-East. The remaining four districts, Collin, Balmoral, Botanic, and Black Mountain would be a 5 seater, possibly Belfast South. That would leave a line-up of:

  • Antrim and Newtownabbey (5 seats)
  • Ards and North Down (5 seats)
  • Armagh (3 seats)
  • Belfast North-East (4 seats)
  • Belfast North-West (4 seats)
  • Belfast South (5 seats)
  • Causeway Coast and Glens (5 seats)
  • Craigavon-Banbridge (4 seats)
  • Derry City and Strabane (5 seats)
  • Fermanagh and Omagh (5 seats)
  • Lisburn and Castlereagh (5 seats)
  • Mid and East Antrim (5 seats)
  • Mid Ulster (5 seats)
  • Newry (3 seats)
  • South Down (3 seats)

This would be a total number of 66 seats – 4 more than the absolute minimum that the former Northern Ireland would be entitled to. Of course there is wiggle room, and these population estimates are based off of UK government projections of what the population is (the last census in Northern Ireland was 2011), and the manoeuvrability also applies to whether you want 1 TD per 20,000 or 30,000.

So, the final all-Ireland constituency profile would be:

Constituencies Population
Antrim and Newtownabbey 140,467
Ards and North Down 149,719
Armagh 90,468
Belfast North-East 101,379
Belfast North-West 101,203
Belfast South 136,325
Carlow-Kilkenny 151,492
Causeway Coast and Glens 143,148
Cavan-Monaghan 124,289
Clare 112,702
Cork East 121,269
Cork North-Central 124,699
Cork North-West 89,187
Cork South-Central 122,013
Cork South-West 85,028
Craigavon-Banbridge 117,329
Derry City and Strabane 131,319
Donegal 150,342
Dublin Bay North 120,562
Dublin Bay South 96,048
Dublin Central 152,830
Dublin Fingal 151,758
Dublin Mid-West 117,588
Dublin North-West 96,898
Dublin Rathdown 94,125
Dublin South-Central 119,121
Dublin South-West 150,816
Dublin West 122,507
Dún Laoghaire 123,149
Fermanagh and Omagh 133,465
Galway East 93,604
Galway West 154,816
Kerry 147,554
Kildare North 122,248
Kildare South 91,989
Laois 92,625
Limerick City 117,352
Limerick County 83,748
Lisburn and Castlereagh 149,283
Longford-Westmeath 120,533
Louth 150,481
Mayo 120,092
Meath East 91,151
Meath West 90,358
Mid and East Antrim 137,145
Mid Ulster 144,002
Newry 86,418
Offaly 88,851
Roscommon-Galway 84,901
Sligo-Leitrim 118,818
South Down 89,951
Tipperary 149,593
Waterford 116,401
Wexford 149,605
Wicklow 146,833
Total 6,609,597

But establishing would-be constituencies in the re-unified Republic of Ireland is just one step. What exactly would the make-up of the 225 seat Dáil look like?

The 32 County Dáil

1. Parties & Elections

First off, it’s important to stress that the two main parties in the Republic, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, have little to no presence/grassroots organisation in the North. Similarly, while the Labour Party and the Social Democrats exist in the Republic, in the North they have the SDLP. The only true all-island parties are the People Before Profit party (known as Solidarity-PBP in the Republic), the Green Party, and of course Sinn Féin.

Likewise, the unionist parties, such as the DUP, UUP, and TUV, have no presence down south. Nor do the SDLP, or the Alliance Party. For this projection, however, I am going to assume that the parties all still exist, and that they contest the Dáil elections as they would their local parliament before reunification happened (i.e. TUV will still field candidates in what was Northern Ireland, and Fianna Fáil still field candidates in the Republic, and so on).

To avoid unnecessarily complicating matters, I am going to use recent opinion polls[4] to get a nationwide (or province-wide in the case of Northern Ireland) overview of the state of the parties and then use recent election stats[5] (2016 General Elections, 2017 Assembly Elections, 2014 Local Elections etc.) to fine-tune a constituency breakdown.

Further, for this particular projection, I am operating on the assumption that unionists are content to take part in national elections to the Dáil and are not following a policy of abstentionism or refusing to recognise it.

The results would be as follows:

225 Dail (1)

Going from L – R, you would have:

Social Democrats – 2 | Fine Gael – 54 | Fianna Fáil – 54 | Sinn Féin – 54 | Green Party – 2 | SDLP – 7 | Labour – 2 | DUP – 23 | UUP – 11 | AAA/PBP/Solidarity/Socialists – 3 | Independents – 9 | TUV – 1 | Alliance – 3

My projected results from the North of Ireland seem to be proportionate to the current make-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly in terms of party representation: DUP – 23 | SF – 20 | UUP – 11 | SDLP – 7 | Alliance – 3 | TUV – 1.

There would be a few known unknown factors, though, that could skew this including whether or not reunification would bolster nationalist turnout, through a wave of elation, or would it encourage the unionists to get out and vote, as they would now have become a minority. Would the DUP, UUP, and TUV come together to avoid splitting the unionist vote and run in elections across the north as a single Unionist party? Such a move could net them an addition seat or two, but at whose expense?

Another factor would be if reunification would increase nationalist turnout in the South – Sinn Féin have been increasing their vote share in recent elections, and are becoming a more mainstream party. In the most recent election there were few instances where they just narrowly lost out on the final seat in a constituency. If Sinn Féin capitalised on reunification to increase turnout in the North of the country, it’s likely they would do the same for the Southern half of it – such a move would result in Sinn Féin being the largest party in the country for the first time since the foundation of the State.

It is clear, though, that in the event of reunification, Sinn Féin’s organised presence across the island of Ireland would put it in a very strong position in any post-reunification Dáil.

Similarly the SDLP would be joining a myriad of parties on the left already in existence in the Republic – most significantly the Labour Party, and to a lesser extent the Social Democrats. While the Labour Party has not campaigned up North because of the SDLP, and so they each have their own stomping grounds, in terms of Dáil representation, there would be an argument there for either joining together, or some sort of partnership. The SDLP’s pro-life position, however, would be a sticking point in any relationship.

2. Government Options

A majority would be 114 seats, more or less – and that would be slim. Based on the seats, no 2 parties – let alone 1 – would be able to command a Dáil majority. There would have to be 3 party governments, or at very minimum 2 parties + independents.

Some possible coalitions could include FF+SF+SDLP (115), or alternatively FG+FF+ 1 of SDLP, SD, Green Party.

With a combined total of 35 seats, unionists would definitely be a sizeable minority/opposition within the Dáil, though if they wished to enter government, it may be possible, though they’d have to join with FG and FF (FG+FF+DUP = 131) – this is assuming they would have had enough of working with more extreme nationalists like Sinn Féin, whereas more democratic nationalists like Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil may be more appealing to them – particularly Fine Gael as they are more conservative.

Entering government would be a smart move for the unionist parties, or at least the DUP, particularly in the beginning stages of a United Ireland. They can ensure the unionist voice is not forgotten and, due to the coalition government they would be part of, can ensure they could bring it down over anything that they would find overly abusive to the unionist minority in the North.

Such a move would be dependent on Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil agreeing to go into government together which, heretofore in the Republic, they have not done so. However the current confidence and supply arrangement may prove to be a workable compromise, with either FG or FF going into government with the DUP, and the remaining party agreeing to abstain on motions of no confidence etc.

Reunification

Reunification isn’t likely to happen any time soon. It’s a move very popular in the Republic, but remains as divisive as ever in Northern Ireland – and with a British Prime Minister refusing a second Scottish referendum, allowing the North to have a referendum amidst Brexit is even less likely.

But it’s interesting to speculate on the political make-up of Ireland should reunification happen, and the consequences it would have on our national parliament. Sinn Féin would be on course to become one of the largest, if not the largest, political party in the State – something that is unthinkable given that only 10 years ago they only had a handful of TDs in the Dáil.

Would the established parties in the Republic make a play for seats in Northern Ireland? Fianna Fáil in recent years have made moves to start grassroots organisations in the North, but it’d be a while before they could come to fruition. Fine Gael has never had as much of an interest in the North, but would their conservative and (somewhat) morality-driven agenda allow them to engage in an agreement with the conservative unionist parties of the North?

Would unionists leave their homeland and go to the United Kingdom if there was a reunification? Would they even engage with the Republic?

There’s questions here that remain unanswered because, since the 70s, reunification has become less and less urgent. Most parties, with the exception of Sinn Féin, are happy to continue the status quo. To resolve the issues raised would mean taking reunification seriously – that it’s a real possibility and could happen anytime soon. Established parties just aren’t willing to accept that.

Will it ever happen though? I think it’s inevitable, for good or ill. And that’s why discussing what Ireland’s political landscape may look like is so important – fail to prepare, and prepare to fail, and that’s a warning all political parties take seriously.


[1] Population Data taken from the 2016 ROI Census and the 2015 UK ONS projections.
[2] For the purposes of my study on this, I will not be operating under the assumption that post-reunification Northern Ireland would still exist as its own province with its own Assembly complete with devolved powers, but under a Dublin government rather than a London one. While a valid theory, I wanted to investigate what a 32 county Dáil may look like; my projections, therefore, are based on full reunification under the one parliament.
[3] With a population of 6,609,597, with a minimum of 1 TD per 30,000, you would need 220.32 seats. I follow that even .32 of a person if entitled to representation hence the minimum of 221.
[4] For ROI seat projections I used Dr. Adrian Kavanagh’s excellent analysis on the subject, dated in March 2017.
[5] In analysing the potential voting patterns for NI seats, I used ARK Northern Ireland’s excellent elections database. It contains ward-by-ward voting patterns and is provides great detail enabling extrapolation to a constituency basis.

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