Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy became embroiled in “very heated exchanges” with members of the Independent Alliance last week over proposed changes to boundaries of local council constituencies.
Independent ministers and councillors are not convinced by his plan and have accused him of an “old- fashioned gerrymander” attempt. The Irish Examiner has learned that a “proper ding-dong” occurred when Mr Murphy sought to brief his Government colleagues as to his plans to reduce the size of constituencies, which he feels are unworkable in their current size.
Among those present for the Alliance were ministers John Halligan and Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, whip Seán Canney and councillors Damien O’Farrell and Joe Conway.
The Programme for Government, agreed between Fine Gael and the Independents, commits to considering reducing the size of local electoral areas and re-establishing town and borough councils, subject to a local plebiscite and local funding.
The Irish Examiner understands that Mr Murphy is keen to reduce the size of electoral areas, which were increased by the Labour Party in government.
The issue of constituency size has been raised repeatedly by councillors from across the country and of all parties and none who have large geographic areas to represent. This is especially the case in rural, sparsely- populated areas, Mr Murphy is said to have argued. But he got short shrift from his Government colleagues.
The Independents remain opposed to the plan as they feel it would lead to an exclusion of smaller parties and independent councillors, who they say tend to take the last or second-last seat in larger constituencies.
At the meeting, Mr Moran and Mr Murphy are said to have engaged in “very colourful exchanges”, with Mr Moran exiting the room in protest.
“Boxer told Murphy that there are 190 commitments in the Programme for Government which are of more importance than this one,” said one source.
The sharp exchanges were confirmed to the Irish Examiner by several sources.
“I would be concerned that if you reduce the size of constituencies, it is the large parties like Fine Gael and Fianna Fail who will gain and it is the smaller parties and independents who will lose out,” said Mr Canney.
Sources close to both Mr Murphy and Mr Moran said there is no residual issue between the two, and they have a “good working relationship”. Mr Murphy is intending bringing a memorandum on the matter to Cabinet tomorrow and while he does not require a Goverment decision to plough ahead, he is keen to have a cross-Coalition consensus on the issue.
Mr Conway said Mr Murphy, if successful, will “take out” up to 40% of the 200 or so Independent councillors serving constituents in practically all the State’s local authorities.
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