Is a boundary redraw crossing the line?

Reducing the number of councillors in West Cork is a blow to local areas, says Sean O’Riordan

WEST Cork people will lose out most as a result of the redrawing of the electoral boundaries for next year’s local elections.

Communities there are already fighting a rearguard action against the loss of many of their services, and the perception is that reducing the number of councillors in the region from 12 to eight will lead to them having even less clout in County Hall.

West Cork Community Alliance has fought a dogged campaign against service cuts, and sees the reduction in the number of its public representatives as another huge blow to rural Ireland.

“We’ll have less of a voice at the table and we have serious concerns about that,” said alliance spokesman Michael Collins.

“We have already lost banks and Garda stations; our schools are under threat and our post offices in danger of closing. If we don’t have political representation it will only make matters worse.”

Redrawing boundaries has given more representation to urban areas, which Mr Collins is also concerned about. “Urban areas will now dictate how rural areas will work. They don’t know how we survive — and we feed them.”

Ironically, it is likely that Fine Gael will suffer more than most from the boundary changes.

Skibbereen-based Fine Gael councillor Adrian Healy said it was very unlikely his party would retain its six seats in West Cork.

“There is concern about the loss of representation in general in the region. If we [Fine Gael] retained four of our seats it would be an excellent result. Three might be more realistic,” he said.

The new county council will have 55 seats, compared to the current 48. Several town councillors are expected to contest the county elections, especially as all 12 town councils will be abolished in the county leaving nearly 100 councillors out of a job.

The Blarney electoral area, which included Blarney and Glanmire, sees itself chopped in two.

The Blarney side will be incorporated into the Macroom electoral area, which will be increased from a four to six-seater.

Glanmire is moved into a new Cobh electoral area, which also takes in parts of Midleton. Labour Senator John Gilroy, who lives in Glanmire, said this will be a seven-seater and he believes it will actually suit most of the sitting councillors.

He forecast his party would hold on to its two seats there and should retain most of them throughout the county, even allowing for an anti-Government backlash.

“It’s expected that Fianna Fáil should take a seat here [Cobh electoral area] and on a good day for them might even take two.

“While the election in 2009 was good for Fine Gael, it was a disaster for Fianna Fáil. This time out there is room for improvement and some of the changes [across the county] suit them. They will make gains elsewhere as well.”

The Midleton electoral area will now become known as the six-seater East Cork electoral area.

“Two Fine Gael, one Independent, Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, and Labour will make up the likely numbers after Jun 2014 in this area. Many of the sitting councillors will be happy with that area’s redrawing,” said Mr Gilroy, who has analysed boundary changes in the whole county.

The Carrigaline area sees significant changes going from a six to 10-seater and it will now include Ballincollig. Fianna Fáil, led by Seamus McGrath, will be sorely disappointed not to return with two seats and possibly a third on a good day. Sinn Féin will also expect to make gains in this constituency.

Kinsale is added to the Bandon electoral area, which goes from a three to six-seater.

“This suits absolutely everybody and recognises, at last, the huge increase in population in the area. Fine Gael will be happiest here as councillors Kevin Murphy and Veronica Neville should be safe as houses. Fianna Fáil’s Alan Coleman will be happy too. Labour will be targeting the area for an extra seat and Sinn Féin will be as well,” said Mr Gilroy.

Kanturk and Mallow electoral areas will be combined for the 2014 local elections, but will see their seats reduced from nine to six.

Fine Gael seems unlikely to retain its four seats here. Fianna Fáil will probably hold its two seats and Labour its one. The rest is to play for in a constituency which has two sitting independents.

There aren’t likely to be any major concerns for sitting councillors in the Fermoy electoral area, which goes from a four to six-seater. Fianna Fáil should easily retain its two seats with councillors Kevin O’Keeffe and Frank O’Flynn. Fine Gael will certainly hold on to its one, as will Labour.

It’s one area certainly pencilled by Sinn Féin for a gain. Party area organiser Cllr Seamus Coleman said his party was hoping to take a number of seats.

“We’re hoping to make gains across the whole county, possibly even five or six seats,” he said.

The party only has one sitting county councillor, Youghal-based Cllr Michelle Hennessy.

“We will be especially hoping to make gains in the Cork metropolitan area [Carrigaline, Cobh, East Cork]. We will run candidates in every constituency. On average our candidates will probably be the youngest of any party,” said Mr Coleman.

They seem likely to be the big winners, along with a rejuvenated Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil has only 12 of the 48 seats on the current council and its council leader, Cllr Alan Coleman, believes that figure will be significantly increased post next June. “As it stands we will only have one sitting councillor in the newly drawn Cork metropolitan area. There are 23 seats up for grabs in this area and we expect to make several gains there,” he said.

“A realistic outcome for us would be to get a third-plus of the 55 seats in the new council.”

He said he had great sympathy with the people of West Cork over the reduction in their public representation.

“It is an assault on the political fabric of West Cork. It’s an insult to rural development. The region is bigger than a number of counties. The decision to reduce their number of councillors is simply appalling.”

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