Council boundaries overhaul leaves Fermoy with much larger electoral area
Labour Minister Sean Sherlock describes it as a strange configuration while local representatives all agree it's greatly increased the electoral area. The biggest shake up of council boundaries in nearly three decades will see a new six-member local electoral area established, covering a much wider region.
As well as the existing areas covered, the Fermoy district will now take in Watergrasshill, Kildinan, Castletownroche, Kilavullen, Shanballymore, Doneraile, Ballyhea, Charleville and Newtownshandrum.
Minister Sherlock has described as 'incongruous' the decision to align the Fermoy district with Charleville and also to put Glenville into the Cobh district. "It doesn't fit the national population base and community boundaries but we have to work with it. It'll be challenging but I look forward to the local elections" he said.
North Cork is to get a second six-member local area covering Kanturk-Mallow.
Fine Gael TD Tom Barry agrees with Minister Sherlock that the new divide-up will provide, in terms of population, a level of representation more akin to that of Dail deputies. "It's a much bigger area," he pointed out. He'd always been a supporter of better local Government but says he had a slight reservaton about the abolition of town councils.
"It spite of the criticism of them I do think they give valuable service. When they are gone people will still have their wants and needs." He has asked Environment and Local Government Minister Phil Hogan to provide better remuneration for councillors. "I've asked him to at least pay them an average industrial wage and also to make provision for them to be able to hire secretaries." He said such assistance would be needed with a much wider brief for councillors under the newly redrawn boundaries and pointed out that allowing them to employ secretaries would create an estimated 1,000 jobs. "I don't mean them employing family members, I mean proper job creation," he stressed. "We need to make the new municipal authorities as efficient as possible."
As for the existing councillors, all appear set to contest the local elections next year for a place on the new municipal authorities. Cllr Noel McCarthy said of the redrawn boundaries: "It's a much bigger area than I thought it would be. There's a lot of new places that I haven't dealt with before. Even for six representatives it's a very large area to cover."
He said there'd be a lot of hard work involved to cover the newly expanded area and provide proper representation to constituents. "But at least we know now what we're dealing with," he pointed out.
Cllr Kevin O'Keefe said he'd been a proponent of local government reform but was somewhat dismayed to see representation cut down overall. "We were led to believe we were going to get extra representation but it's been cut down overall. There's a bigger area to cover, more like a Dail constituency. There'll be more work for us," he said, adding that he was sure there would be plenty of able candidates vying for election. "I'm happy to serve them," he said of the new constituents now in the Fermoy electoral area.
"I welcome it. While it will be challenging I look forward to working for the new constituents of the areas now included," Cllr Frank O'Flynn said. "I hope the Minister will give more powers and funding to the new municipal committees. That's what's needed, that's real devolved Government."
Cllr Pa O'Driscoll meanwhile told The Avondhu he has reservations about the redrawn boundaries. "One of the purposes of the reform was to make local government more efficient and achieve a greater balance of representation acros the country. Cork County will have, on average, one councillor for every 7,000 people, whereas smaller counties such as Leitrim will have a councillor for less than 2,000 people. There will be 18 councillors for Leitrim with a population of less than 35,000 while the Fermoy district will have six councillors with a population of more than 42,000," he explained. "This imbalance should have been addressed. There is no need for a full county council along with a county manager and directors of services for small counties. There should have been amalgamations," he said.
Some new electoral areas "are ridiculously large" Cllr O'Driscoll commented, citing as examples West Cork, South and West Kerry and West Clare. "That's bigger than many Dail constituencies. It means some new districts electing up to 10 councillors. There was no need for this to be done. I've never heard anyone suggesting that the current situation of electoral areas with an average of four to five councillors being too small or not working."
"It appeared," he said, "that there was pressure from somewhere within Government to have larger areas but there's no rationale for it. It will be unworkable for part-time councillors to be able to serve larger geographical areas and it will only lead to more populist politics which is part of the reason why we're in the mess we are in," he argued.
Reform of local government should also include decentralisation of powers from national to local authorities, he stressed. "This doesn't seem to be happening. The provison of water services is being removed as a function of local authorities and functions such as roads and housing are being dictated more and more from central government. Local government should mean locally elected public representatives having a greater say in how services are delivered. Over the past 20 years the powers of local authorities have been greatly diminished and this reform does not address that in any great detail," he concluded.
Next year's local elections are going to be interesting. With town councils abolished and just six seats up for grabs in a greatly enlarged electoral area, there's going to be a scramble. One person greatly looking forward to it is Minister Sean Sherlock. "I'm genetically disposed to a dog fight," he declared this week.
Friday 7th June 11:00am