The 12.9% population growth in the county reported in the preliminary census findings could lead to an extra Dáil seat for one of the two Meath constituencies most likely Meath East.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the largest population increase centred around places, such as Ashbourne, Ratoath, Dunboyne, Dunshaughlin and Stamullen all close to Dublin and all in Meath East.
After every census the Constituency Commission, which is an independent commission that advises on redrawing of constituency boundaries of Dáil constituencies for the election of members to the Dáil and the European Parliament. Each commission is established by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage after the census, submits a non-binding report to the Oireachtas, and is then dissolved.
An extra seat for Meath East would see it return four TD’s, currently Helen McEntee, (FG), Thomas Byrne (FF) and Sinn Féins Darren O Rourke are in situ and recent opinion polls suggest O’Rourke may be tasked with bringing in a running mate, councillor Aisling O’Neill is a possible candidate to fill that role, and is certainly being heavily promoted by the party.
However, she is based in Ashbourne where O’Rourke draws big support so for strategic reasons a former councillor Eimear Ferguson, who’s stronghold is in Bettystown may get the second spot on the ticket.
Fine Gael have been privately canvassing Independent councillor Joe Bonner and the Ashbourne-based Bonner will certainly fancy his chances if there is an extra seat but he is adamant he will contest as an Independent which leaves the Fine Gael people with a selection dilemma as their candidate in the south of the constituency last time Regina Doherty has moved to Fingal.
Could that open the door for another McEntee to enter the Meath political arena as Helen’s uncle Andy the former Meath football manager is based in Dunboyne and with a party machine behind him could be a surprise packet, certainly a dummy run in the local elections, scheduled for eighteen months time cannot be ruled out.
Independent Senator Sharon Keogan is no bad shout for the fourth seat although with no party machine she faces an uphill task.
But the not-so-dark horse is popular Dunboyne man Damien O’Reilly from Fianna Fáil a man who knows all politics is local and has a strong support base in the area.
In the end, if there is an extra seat Sinn Féin or Bonner are best placed to grab it as the inevitable anti-government’s wing kicks in.
Bonner’s problem will be where he gets transfers the Shinners’s difficulty is where to locate their second candidate.
That likely extra seat could well see big names fall in Meath East because it is almost certain one of the two sitting Ministers, Helen McEntee and Thomas Byrne will lose out.
Byrne has the advantage of being away in Brussel where he is less likely to be directly linked to a disliked government, McEntee, on the other hand, is front and centre as Minister for Justice and faces the further dilemma of FG being the upfront government party by the fact they will have the Taoiseach at the time of the election.
Intriguing doesn’t do it justice.