The Republic looks likely to have its highest representation of MEPs in more than 20 years due to the significant increase in population in the State over the past five years.
The provisional data from Census 2022 show that the population of the State has crept above five million for the first time. At 5,123,536 it is an increase of more than 361,671 from 2016.
It is one of nine countries in the European Union which has experience population growth since the last European Parliament elections in 2019.
At present, there are 13 Irish MEPs across three constituencies — South (five seats); Dublin (four seats) and Midlands Northwest (four seats).
The parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs (Afco) decided at a meeting in May that seven countries, including the Republic, should be allotted one extra MEP for the 2024 elections for the 705-seat assembly. It also recommended that two countries, Austria and Spain, should get an extra two seats.
A Belgian amendment to the proposal recommended that the Republic would get two additional seats but those close to the process think that is unlikely, as “spare” seats need to be kept in reserve for possible future entrants to the EU.
Seán Kelly, the Fine Gael MEP for South, is the only Irish representative on Afco and says the final decision on extra seats being allotted to countries will be made by the committee on May 10th. If passed there will then be a full plenary vote in the parliament during June.
“The population increase in Ireland justifies us getting one extra seat,” said Mr Kelly, who added his constituency could not be given that extra seat.
The rules governing the electoral commission for European constituencies are similar to that of the Dáil. The constituencies must be between three seats and five seats in size and county boundaries must be respected as much as possible.
In the early years of the Republic’s membership of the European Economic Community the Republic elected as many as 22 MEPs. However, with successive expansions of the union, the number fell to 15 during the 1990s and then as low as 11 after the significant expansion of the union after 2004.
In the last parliamentary elections in 2019, the numbers increased by two to 13, when the United Kingdom’s seats were reallocated after it left the bloc.
The electoral commission has invited people to submit their views on the shape of the three European Parliament constituencies for the 2024 election. A final determination will be made on August 30th this year.
The commission may allot an extra seat to either Dublin or Midlands North West, which encompasses 13 counties. The largest population growth over the past five years has occurred in commuting counties around Dublin and in the midlands.
If Dublin were to get an extra seat, there is a possibility that Kildare would form part of its new constituency. Likewise, Midlands North West would take in one extra county if its seat numbers were to be increased. The most likely county to be added would be Offaly.
If the commission decides to pursue a more systematic redraw of the constituencies, it could decide on four constituencies, two comprising four seats and two comprising three seats.