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Buttimer criticises boundary changes

A Fine Gael TD at risk of losing his Dáil seat has criticised the proposed changes to his constituency, saying they will disenfranchise some voters.

Jerry Buttimer’s comments came as TDs from across the political spectrum continued to digest the implications of the Constituency Commission’s recommendations.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin reiterated his party’s belief that a fundamental opportunity for Dáil reform had been missed.

In its report on Thursday, the independent commission recommended a fundamental redrawing of the political map, which will see the number of constituencies cut from 43 to 40 and TDs from 166 to 158.

Several constituencies will be created, others will be merged, and some will see chunks of their terrain transferred elsewhere.

One of the constituencies to be affected is Cork South Central, a chunk of which, encompassing Bishopstown and Glasheen, will transfer to Cork North Central. The proposal means the natural boundary created by the River Lee, which runs between the two constituencies in their existing format, will be breached.

About 17,300 people will be affected — once the change is implemented, they will vote in Cork North Central rather than Cork South Central.

Mr Buttimer said the change would mean that Bishopstown, in particular, would be "torn apart", as most of it would move to North Central while a bit would remain in South Central.

The Fine Gael TD will be severely affected, as his heartland is in Bishopstown and Glasheen, and by his own estimate, he could lose 1,400 votes. "People in Bishopstown have been disenfranchised by this. The community has been completely divided. By dividing the community, you weaken it. It will be more difficult to lobby for a new school, or for lottery grants. Who do they turn to?"

Mr Buttimer said that while having an independent commission was "fine in theory", such bodies "don’t understand how communities work, and the intricacies of communities".

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was also critical, pointing out that the proposed Sligo/Leitrim constituency would comprise terrain from four counties — Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal, and Cavan.

However, his criticism was primarily aimed at the Government, which set the parameters for the commission’s work.

He claimed the Coalition had "made a dog’s dinner of it" by narrowing the terms of reference for the commission, and said reducing the number of TDs was insufficient reform.

"We do need a stronger parliament. The Government controls parliament at the moment — that’s a fault in our system. We do need more expertise in government outside of parliament — that’s not facilitated."

In Fianna Fáil’s view, the crucial issue was not the number of TDs, "but rather what the Dáil does", he said.