Fine Gael denies TD cuts re-think

Environment minister Phil Hogan

Fine Gael has denied rowing back on a key pre-election pledge to cut the number of TDs by 20 despite new proposals to cut no more than 13.

Environment minister Phil Hogan also admitted the Dáil could be reduced in size by as little as six deputies.

He said the party’s manifesto promise was based on 2006 population figures but the latest census revealed a massive unexpected spike in the number of people living in Ireland.

Before the election, Fine Gael repeatedly stated it would cut the number of TDs by 20, but made no reference to basing the guarantee on the 2006 census in its manifesto.

But Mr Hogan claimed: “If you read what we said carefully in the manifesto, our objective was to reduce the number of seats by 20, subject to the 2006 census figures.

“And we said we wouldn’t have a constitutional referendum to reduce the number further. So we are meeting our requirements in the Programme for Government.”

The Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2011 will allow for a new Constituency Commission to be set up to provide for between 153 and 160 deputies in the next Dáil, based on the latest Census figures which puts the population at its highest for 150 years.

Under the Constitution there must be at least one TD for every 20,000 to 30,000 people, which means the number of TDs will be cut by at least six, but no more than 13.

Mr Hogan said the Constituency Commission was an independent body and he would not be drawn on what total the Government would like to see.

In Fine Gael’s pre-election manifesto the party repeatedly stated it would cut the number of TDs by 20.

In the Programme for Government, the pledge was to reduce the number of Dáil deputies after the publication of the census 2011, but no figure was given.

Mr Hogan said a High Court judge will be appointed to head up the Constituency Commission which will be due to report next year.

The Bill also provides for a six-month time limit on the holding of by-elections and for a reduction in the spending limit for a presidential election from €1.3m to €750,000.

It also cuts the amount that can be reimbursed from the Exchequer to candidates, from €260,000 to €200,000. The limits will apply to the 2011 presidential election.

Mr Hogan said no date had been fixed for the election yet, but said a new President must be in office by November 10.

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