The party, which won an unprecedented four seats in the 2011 general election after pulling 65 per cent of the vote, has the most to lose as a result of the shake-up.
The controversial change, expected to be officially announced next Thursday, will impinge on each of Fine Gael’s outgoing TD as it effectively alters the entire dynamics of the constituency and how it will be divided between candidates at the next general election.
The initial impression Ballina-based Deputy Michelle Mulherin is immune from the impact, on the basis her stronghold is unaffected, could not be further from the truth as she will be forced to concede ground to party colleagues in what is likely to develop into a fascinating affair.
Fianna Fáil’s hopes of securing a second seat have suffered a setback while Sinn Féin may regard the change as an opportunity.
The Constituency Commission is recommending that Mayo’s allocation of TDs is reduced by one as efforts are stepped up to cut the number of Dáil seats from 166 to 158 on the basis of the definitive Census 2011 population figures and the government’s commitment to reduce the number of Oireachtas members.
In the circumstances, the Mayo population was deemed to be too small for it to remain a five-seater with a population per TD ratio 8.9 per cent lower than the state average.
And because it was cited as being too large to be a four-seat constituency with its present boundaries, a territory transfer equivalent to a population of 10,000 people in the south of the county is being transferred into Galway-West in order to make Mayo a four-seater.
In effect, Mayo is losing a part of the constituency which made up the old Ballinrobe electoral area before it was incorporated into the Claremorris electoral area before the last local elections in 2009.
In purely mathematical terms, the electorate is expected to be fall from 101,160 in 2011 to around 96,000 in the next scheduled general election in 2016.
Furthermore, the quota will rise from 12,360 to approximately 14,500 as a result of the development.
The political implications are far-reaching and it can be predicted with confidence that Fine Gael will lose at least one seat.
While Deputy Michael Ring is damaged most in terms of votes being lost, the position of Deputy John O’Mahony is considered within political circles to be most at risk.
The perception is based on the fact that he got the lowest first preference vote (8,667) of the four FG contenders a year and a half ago, although the difference between himself and Deputy Mulherin was only 184.
In contrast, Deputy Ring registered 13,180 in the first count with Westport (4,492) and Erris (3,185) coming up trumps for him while he also received an impressive 2,974 in the Claremorris electoral area.
If Fine Gael strategists thought they had an unenviable task in 2011 to ensure their candidates observed a strict vote management policy, the challenge will border on the impossible next time around.
“To paraphrase a former health minister when explaining the job facing him in his portfolio, it will be like Angola,” Michael Sloyan, Fine Gael’s former director of elections, told The Connaught Telegraph.
“The news has come as quite a shock alright, but I still believe we will win three seats with Taoiseach Enda Kenny heading the team.
“I had hoped Mayo would be retained as a five-seater by switching Ballaghaderreen and its hinterlands into our constituency, but that idea appears to have been abandoned now.”
Former councillor Paddy McGuinness, who chaired the Fine Gael strategy committee during the historic 2011 campaign, said it is a very sad indictment that Mayo is being cut from six to four TDs in the space of 12 years.
He stated: “Once the constituency commission makes its official announcement, a meeting of the party will analyse and examine the implications in detail.
“It’s all a bit deflating at this point, but the party will be determined to capitalise on its strong position in Mayo. While I don’t think we can win four out of four, the objective will be to hold onto three seats.
“We have candidates strategically positioned to do just that and, obviously, the outcome of the local elections in two years time will give Fine Gael an indication of how its support is holding up.”
There is one glaring issue that provides Fine Gael with room in which to manoeuvre in terms of drafting a fresh game plan and that relates to managing Deputy Kenny’s vote.
He polled 17,472 first preferences in 2011 despite efforts being made to restrict his area, a situation that will unquestionably be revisited.
Deputy Ring won’t be under any pressure now to concede ground, but Deputy O’Mahony may push to claim the town of Foxford from Deputy Mulherin.
Interestingly, there is not too much scope for tampering with a strategy that rewrote the political history books in 2011.
But the bottom line is that four into three won’t go, so something has to give.
Mayo Fianna Fáil Deputy Dara Calleary said there is a strong argument to be made for the retention of five TDs due to the geographical size of the county.
As his party’s only sitting TD in the county, he is stretched to give normal service to the whole constituency.
“It will be exceedingly difficult to provide proper representation if the number of TDs is reduced.”
He added the population on the east coast was much more concentrated and therefore easier to represent.
It’s a long time to the next scheduled general election and many changes are likely to occur before then.
Deputy O’Mahony, for example, could be coaxed into contesting the EU Parliament elections in 2014 while Deputy Kenny and Deputy Ring may consider retiring at the end of the current Dáil term.