Population increases could have political ramifications
The Longford Westmeath constituency could become a five-seater in time for the next general election after the first round of Census results revealed significant population increases in both counties.
The population of Westmeath on Census night was recorded at 95,840, an increase of 7,070 (+8%) since 2016 and the highest in more than 160 years.
Longford recorded the biggest population growth in the country, from 40,873 in 2016 to 46,634 (+14.1), and some commentators are predicting that with the number of TDs in the Dáil set to grow by 17, the area may become a five-seater.
Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner, Minister of State Peter Burke says the main focus should be on getting all of north Westmeath back into Longford Westmeath.
“It’s not good to breach county boundaries. It is difficult for people in north Westmeath. They are wearing the maroon jersey and we are working hard to try and get them reunited.
“Delvin, Collinstown, Fore and Castlepollard are strong towns and villages and it’s important that we try and get them back into the constituency.
“I get a huge amount of representations from north Westmeath, although it is in Meath West. People feel that Longford Westmeath is their natural home.”
Minister Burke says the population increases in Meath will have a major say in the decisions taken by the Boundary Commission.
Streamstown electoral division had the largest population growth (37.3%) in the county with the population rising from 378 in 2016 to 519 in 2022.
Minister Burke says that despite the “narrative that rural Ireland is dying, people are choosing to live in vibrant rural communities”. He says the move to remote or hybrid working and investment in infrastructure such as rural broadband and amenities like the greenway network means increasing numbers are relocating from urban areas.
The 7,070 increase in the Westmeath population was made up of a natural increase (ie births minus deaths) of 3,721 and an estimated net inward migration of 3,349.
The total housing stock in Westmeath was 38,411, an increase of 1,521 (+4.1%). There were 3,193 vacant dwellings, 535 fewer than in 2016, (-14.4%). That does not include holiday homes, of which there were 334. The number of vacant dwellings is 8.3 per cent of total housing.
While new legislation and funding streams will return vacant homes to use, Minister Burke said the figure includes properties for sale or rent, and other properties that are vacant for short periods.