Independent TD Mattie McGrath has expressed his serious reservations following the publication of the Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee Report 2013 which has made recommendations on the division of each council area, other than Cork City, into local electoral areas, and to make recommendations on the number of members of each council to be assigned to each local electoral area:
“The total number of town councillors will be cut from 1,627 to 949 with the elimination of the smaller town councils and all of their 750 members. The number of councillors in growing urban areas will be increased. What I would like to know however is how the Minister can claim this as some sort of victory for local democracy? Does the word ‘local’ pertain only to urban areas? Rural villages and towns deserve more from this Minister and this Committee than to be quite literally erased from the electoral map only to be subsumed into the greater urban areas.”
The Committee was tasked to have regard to the population as ascertained at census 2011, to the Government’s Action Programme for Effective Local Government and to the decision of Government to merge the councils of North Tipperary and South Tipperary. What has emerged at the end of this process however has left many local representatives with a sense that far from advancing effective local Government, the recommendations of the Report will have the opposite effect.
“I am quite certain that the people of Cahir and Fethard for example will be deeply offended to realise that their towns, which to date have had no electoral affinity with Clonmel at the local level, are now totally within the new nine-member local electoral area proposed for the town of Clonmel which is meant to reflect its current status as a borough council. Indeed some of the areas that now come under the Clonmel Area are more than 20 miles from the town, like Burncourt, Clogheen and Ballyporeen. There is a great risk here of disproportionate levels of representation which we must be careful to avoid,” said Deputy McGrath.
As well as redrawing the local electoral areas for county and city councils, the Minister has announced that town councils and borough councils, which between them have 774 seats, will be abolished from next year.
“Having read the Report I can only say that while it is couched in very noble language about a more participative democracy, I am afraid that in the end it will be seen for what it is; an anti-democratic measure that will serve to weaken rural democracy rather than strengthen it. As for all the Minister’s talk of significant savings, this too has been overly inflated. The cost saving in abolishing town councils has to be set against the increase of 66 city and county councillors. Payments to town and borough councillors cost about €4,000 each per year whereas payments to county councillors can cost on average about €30,000. It is just one more example of where the Minister’s big ideas do not add up,” said Deputy McGrath.