Ireland is a long way from being a classless society. Class and the class struggle continue to play a hugely significant rôle in the social and political life of the country. Nowhere is this dynamic more visible than in our general elections. Each election sees the country return an overwhelming majority of centre-right and right wing representatives to the Dáil – regardless of their individual party affiliations – who tirelessly serve the interests of the privileged and middle classes. In over a hundred years since the 1913 Dublin Lockout Ireland has failed to build a strong leftist counterbalance to defend the interests of the working class.
It has never been a secret that the more affluent sectors of every democratic society exercise their right to vote at a higher rate than the less well off, a sociological reality that results in poorer communities being underrepresented in parliament. Adrian Kavanagh of Maynooth University’s Department of Geography recently commented on this:
Lower turnout levels tend to be associated with urban areas and areas with high levels of residential mobility, as well as with working class communities and younger people. As a result, inner city areas and particularly the Dublin Inner City – characterised by higher levels of residential mobility, social deprivation and younger people – tend to have the very lowest turnout rates when it comes to Irish elections.
– Adrian Kavanagh, General Election 2016 – Why Your Vote Matters
Aware of this tendency, which is one of the many consequences of socio-economic inequality, a progressive democracy would account for this in the mapping out of constituency boundaries. While we have a one person one vote system in Ireland it fails to take into consideration the social realities of those who most need national parliamentary representation. In fact, in Dublin’s inner city – where there is an has been a historical density of poverty and deprivation – the boundaries quite deliberately encompass a mix of relative affluence and poverty so as to ensure an imbalance of representation to benefit the middle class and the affluent.Dublin South Central is a magnificent example of this wealth gerrymandering. The Dublin South Central constituency covers a population of 114,660 people and covers some of the largest working class and socially deprived areas of the city. Yet along with the Liberties, Crumlin, Dolphin’s Barn, and Ballyfermot it includes some of the most affluent areas of the country like Terenure. While the constituency is regarded as one of the most left leaning constituencies in the country in the past twenty general elections, as both a four and a five seat constituency, only an average of twenty-five percent of its elected TDs have been left leaning – and this is counting Labour as left. What this amounts to is a smothering of working class representation.