Galway, and the west of Ireland generally, is likely to be the area of the State most at risk of losing an EU seat before the next European elections, which take place in 2014.
Over the next decade, Galway, and Connacht, is likely to be subsumed into ever larger and more confusing constituencies as the number of EU member states increases. As a result, EU representation for the west is likely to decline and be diluted.
Ireland North-West, made up of Connacht and the Ulster counties in the Republic, as well as Clare and Westmeath, has three MEPs - Fine Gael’s Jim Higgins, Fianna Fáil’s Pat The Cope Gallagher, Independent Marian Harkin.
Croatia, Iceland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia are likely to join the EU over the next decade, and given their population sizes there will be a need to allocate roughly 60 of the current 751 EU parliament seats to these new countries. As a result, Ireland could go from having 15 MEPs to just seven or eight by 2019.
With Croatia about to enter the EU, there is a strong possibility of Ireland losing one MEP next year, despite the fact that the Government could block any such reduction of Irish representation by using its veto.
The Republic of Ireland has four three-seat EU constituencies - North-West, Dublin, Ireland East (rest of Leinster ), and Ireland South (rest of Munster ). Losing a seat would entail one constituency becoming a two seater or else the constituency boundaries being redrawn.
It is believed that any future changes will see constituency revamps. Two possibilities are:
Dublin will retain three seats based on current population. The other eight seats will be split into two four-seaters. This would mean North-West would then run from Donegal to Cork.
Alternatively a new five-seater Ireland East Coast could be created, made up of Dublin, Louth, Wicklow, and Wexford, with possibly Meath and Kildare. The rest of Leinster would be amalgamated with North-West into a new three seater. Munster would stay as is.
However all of the above options result in the creation of sprawling, unwieldy, constituencies which make little sense geographically or regionally.
As a result, MEP Higgins has called on the Government, which currently holds the EU presidency, to “develop a coherent negotiation on strategy when it comes to retaining a maximum number of seats in the European Parliament”.
He said: “The Government seems willing to roll over and accept a cut in the number of seats, without any strategy for negotiation.”
Another aspect to the forthcoming EU elections is that Pat The Cope Gallagher is likely to retire from politics in 2014 leaving Fianna Fáil with a new candidate to select. There has been some speculation that Sligo’s Marc MacSharry may run but many within the party are doubtful he can hold the seat.
The other name that has been floated is party agriculture spokesperson and Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív. With FF on the rise in the polls and Dep Ó Cuív one of the party’s big vote getters he may be an ideal choice. However these same reasons mean he is valuable for general elections as well.