Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has called for a national debate on whether it is appropriate to continue tying the number of TDs in the Dail to the population.
Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings in Dublin, Mr Harris asked: “Are we really going to live in a country where we’re just going to increase the number of TDs ad nauseam?”
He said the current rules, which include having an average of 20,000 to 30,000 people per TD within constituencies limited to between three and five seats, can see people having difficulty when an electoral boundary moves across their hometown.
He said: “I’m not talking about the politician, I’m talking about where you actually fit in terms of your identity in the political system – and the numbers just continue to grow and grow.”
Mr Harris said if a national conversation brought the country to a point where it needed to be “put the people”, Government should be open to that.
He said: “I do think we need an informed debate in this country about should the number of national legislators be entirely and exclusively linked to population, or actually is there a conversation to be had about what the appropriate number of TD is?”
Asked if he has an opinion on what the maximum number of TDs should be, Mr Harris said he does not.
He said: “I don’t think any one politician or political party – Government or opposition, should be answering that question and the factual position today is the Constitution is the word on the matter.”
He said the Electoral Commission could research best practice on the matter in other jurisdictions.
Mr Harris added: “I certainly wouldn’t be buying into the populist narrative of reducing the number of politicians for the sake of it, I’m more talking about a climate about where the number is increasing, what is the appropriate level, where does the increase stop?
“I think we have a duty, in due course, to answer that question.”
At the publication of the Electoral Commission report, chairwoman and Supreme Court judge Ms Justice Marie Baker said there should be immediate commencement of research on the rules around constituencies and representation.
This includes the seat limits for constituencies and the Constitutional provision for the need of one TD to represent every 20,000 to 30,000 people in Ireland.
Asked about the proposed changed to his constituency, Mr Harris said: “I’m conscious there will be mixed feelings in Co Wicklow.”
The decision was made to reduce the two five-seat constituencies of Wicklow and Wexford by one seat each and allocate an additional seat to create this new three-seat constituency.
He said: “I think any time a constituency is split or there’s any change, there’s mixed feelings.
“From an electoral point of view, I’ve looked at the map, I’ve looked at the numbers and I’m happy enough with the lines on the map in terms of the next election.”