TRADING PLACES The 2017 Constituency Commission report saw Ballinrobe, Roundfort (Kilcommon) and Garrymore move back to Mayo but places like Cong, Cross, The Neale, Kilmaine, Shrule and Glencorrib remain in Galway West.
If you want to know what the people of the part of south Mayo diverted to the Galway West think of the move, you only need to compare and contrast.
At first glance, the voter turnout for the area of south Mayo voting in Galway West does not appear dramatically lower than the rest of the county.
The voting turnout in the Mayo constituency in the 2020 General Election was 66.1 percent and the turnout in the ten Mayo boxes in Galway West was 61.88 percent.
Not a huge difference. Except when you look back to the last time those voters cast their votes in the Mayo constituency.
That was 2011 and while the prospect of a Mayo Taoiseach saw a decent turnout across the county – at 73.94 percent – the turnout in those ten boxes was an incredible 79.28 percent, practically four out of every five voters voted.
What you need to bear in mind is areas like Cong, Cross, The Neale, Kilmaine, Shrule, Glencorrib, Ballycusheen, Kilroe and Gortjordan are rural areas. Rural areas tend to have higher turnouts than urban centres.
Add in the fact that the people of these areas are especially keen on their politics and you get a turnout close to 80 percent.
So when you see a fall of almost 20 percent from 2011 to 2020 in voter turnout in this part of South Mayo, you see just what these voters think of their part of Mayo being moved into Galway West.
In 2016 it was a larger parcel of south Mayo which was in Galway West. Ballinrobe, Garrymore and Roundfort were all part of the move to Galway.
It did not go down well then and it isn’t going down well now either.
In 2017, the Constituency Commission moved Ballinrobe, Garrymore and Roundfort back into Mayo which left them feeling better but those Mayo voters who remained in Galway West felt even more disenfranchised.
It’s felt particularly keenly in neighbouring villages of Gortjordan and Glencorrib.
In 2011, a whopping 87 percent of those eligible to vote in Glencorrib cast their vote. In 2020, that figure was just 58.5 percent, a fall of 28.5 percent.
In 2011, 80 percent of voters in Gortjordan voted. Now, nine years later, that percentage is just 54.4 percent, a fall of 25.6 percent.
When you look at these figures, the case is very strong for returning these south Mayo parishes back to their natural hinterland.
It is not as simple as that, however. As we reported in these pages in 2017, from a population point of view, Mayo has too small a population to justify a five-seater and too big to justify a four-seater under the terms of reference of the Constituency Commission.
It led to a ‘breach’ of the county for general election purposes, something the Constituency Commission say could not be avoided in many counties due to ‘uneven population distribution’ and the requirement to have, as far as possible, the population per TD in each constituency to be ‘the same throughout the country’.
The Commission’s recommendation has the national average population per TD at 29,762 and the Commission say they seek to keep the variance from this to less than five percent, something they achieved in 37 of the 39 constituencies.
The new Mayo constituency – supplemented by a part of south Mayo – has a population of 31,244 per TD, which is 4.98 percent above the national average. Encompassing the rest of south Mayo would push them well past the five percent mark.
Another significant restriction on the Constituency Commission was the decision taken by Enda Kenny in his first term as Taoiseach to reduce the number of TDs from 166 to 158 and not allow it above 160.
On account of the commission’s recommendation, the number of TDs now is at the maximum of 160.
In order to ensure that the average population per TD across the country is less than 30,000 – something demanded in the Constitution – only a total number of TDs of 159 and 160 does not breech this requirement.
So you have constitutional law at odds with natural boundaries of counties in Ireland.
John O’Mahony, who ran in Galway West in 2016, told us in 2017 about the importance of the latter. With his experience in the GAA, he is better placed than most to comment on county identity.
“In Ireland, in sports, in politics, in geography and in terms of a sense of place and identification, the county boundaries are a huge part of Irish life and what makes us unique in many ways. These constituencies fly in the face of that,” he said.
It would, as John O’Mahony said three years ago, be preferable to most Mayo voters and certainly to those Mayo voters still in Galway West, for Mayo to be one four seat county constituency, even if it left the county well over the national average per TD.
“It would be a more reasonable solution than what we’ve been left with,” he said.
The actions of hundreds of Mayo voters now relocated to the Galway West constituency who stayed at home for General Election 2020 would indicate they agree with him.
The voting turnout of ten boxes in south Mayo when they last voted in the Mayo constituency, in 2011.
The voting turnout for the same ten boxes in this month’s General Election, with those south Mayo voters now based in the Galway West constituency.
The fall in turnout in Glencorrib in nine years, from 87 percent in 2011 to 58.5 percent in 2020.