A district electoral division (often abbreviated as DED) is a former name given to a low-level territorial division in Ireland. In 1994, both district electoral divisions and wards (the equivalent of district electoral divisions within the five county boroughs) were renamed as electoral divisions (the boundaries and names of the DEDs and wards themselves remained unchanged). In the Republic of Ireland, DEDs are the smallest legally defined administrative areas in the state for which small area population statistics (SAPS) are published from the Census. In the European Union, Local administrative units (LAUs) are basic components of Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS) regions. For each EU member country, two levels of Local Administrative Units (LAU) are defined: LAU-1 and LAU-2, which were previously called NUTS-4 and NUTS-5 respectively, until the NUTS regulation went into force in July 2003. The District electoral division is at the level of LAU-2. There are a total of 3,440 electoral divisions within the Republic of Ireland.
District electoral divisions originated as subdivisions of poor law unions, grouping a number of townlands together to elect one or more members to a Poor Law Board of Guardians. The boundaries of district electoral divisions were drawn by a Poor Law Boundary Commission, with the intention of producing areas of roughly equivalent “rateable value” (the total amount of rates that would be paid by all ratepayers in the DED) as well as population. This meant that while DEDs were almost always contiguous, they might bear little relation to natural community boundaries.
The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 established a system of county councils and urban and rural district councils and the district electoral divisions were then used to elect members to the district councils, with groups of DEDs combining to elect members to county councils.
In the Irish Free State (later to become the Republic of Ireland), the introduction of the single transferable vote for local government elections meant that district electoral divisions were grouped together to elect a number of members to the relevant councils. Rural district councils outside County Dublin were abolished in 1925, with the remaining councils in Dublin being abolished in 1930. This meant that district electoral divisions no longer had any electoral purpose in their own right. However, they continued to be used for other administrative purposes; such as low-level census divisions, and building blocks for delimiting Dáil constituencies. Electoral areas for local authorities are not required to observe electoral division boundaries, though those for county councils usually do.
Outside Dublin, most DED boundaries have remained unchanged since the 1850s. In County Dublin, however, the rapid increase in population of the city’s suburbs has meant that district electoral divisions have been periodically redrawn so as to produce smaller divisions of a convenient size. In addition, the expansion of the city boundaries of Cork, Limerick and Waterford and the establishment of Galway as a county borough in 1985, required the redrawing of ward boundaries within the cities, and the consequent adjustment of the DEDs affected by the boundary changes.
Because the boundaries of district electoral divisions have largely remained unchanged since the nineteenth century, their populations vary widely, ranging from 32,305 for the electoral division of Blanchardstown-Blakestown in Fingal to 16 for the electoral divisions of Arigna in County Leitrim (figures from the 2006 Census of Population). District electoral division boundaries also tend to bear little relation to the boundaries of natural communities in rural Ireland such as parishes, with the result that most people will have little or no idea as to which electoral division they live in.