The Smiddy report on the amalgamation of the two local authorities in Cork has recommended the ratio of councillors to constituents be altered, especially in West Cork where their number has been reduced but the area of representation significantly increased.
There are currently 55 councillors representing the county area and 31 for the city. However, on average each county councillor represents 7,269 constituents, while each city councillor represents 3,864.
There is no suggestion of cutting councillor numbers in the report which was launched by Environment Minister Alan Kelly last Tuesday. However, the areas and number of people they represent will have to be looked at.
Many county councillors, especially in very rural areas, have complained that they have too much of a workload and have to travel long distances to meet constituents.
The problem is particularly acute in West Cork. There was uproar in the region in 2013 when the independent Boundary Commission decided to reduce the number of county councillors representing constituents in West Cork from 12 to eight for the following June’s Local Elections.
The eight were elected to the newly formed West Cork Municipal District and it was increased in size. Now councillors have to cover an area stretching from Dursey in the west to Courtmacsherry in the east.
Bantry-based Fianna Fáil councillor Pat Murphy, who was one of those strenuously objected to the reduction in councillors, said he welcomed the recommendation in the Smiddy report.
“It was absolutely ridiculous. It’s a two-and-a-half hour drive from one side of the constituency to the other. A city councillor would be able to travel to Dublin in that time,” Mr Murphy said.
He said that a city councillor could also walk around their constituency, or go bus-hopping around it.
“That would be out of the question in West Cork. We have three peninsulas and five populated islands to represent as well.
“It would take an additional half hour one-way in a ferry to get between Castletownbere and Bere island. The logistics are immense in West Cork.”
He maintains that pre-June 2014 the then 12 councillors representing the region were already stretched.
Having just eight has made it virtually impossible to properly represent constituents needs, which are more varied and problematic than urban dwellers.
“I welcome the review’s findings and I think because of the vast area there should be either 14 or 15 councillors covering it. This needs to happen,” Mr Murphy said.
Dunmanway-based Independent councillor Declan Hurley is one of three independents representing the region.
“It was a crazy decision to reduce the number of councillors. It is unworkable and the general public in West Cork has been put at a disadvantage because of it,” Mr Hurley said.
Labour senator John Gilroy who is a former county councillor, said the Boundary Commission would have to redraw the municipal district if the merger between the two local authorities went ahead.
He also said that it was inequitable that councillors in the county had to represent nearly twice as many constituents.
The Smiddy report says changes in councillor/ constituent ratios should be changed by 2019.
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