The revamped Cork City local electoral areas are posing challenges and changes across the city but the northside of the river is undergoing a far more drastic change.
Previously, the area was split into three wards: North-West, North-East, and North-Central.
In expanding the city boundary, the decision was also taken to alter the layout on the city’s northside and reduce the number of constituencies to just two.
Cork City North-West will now have six councillors instead of four and will include parts of the former Cork City North-Central ward, as well as large areas from the former Cork County Council administrative area.
The northside itself will be split along Blackpool. Everything east of the village will be in the new Cork city North-East, with everything west of that in North-West.
It includes areas of huge population, like Knocknaheeny, Gurranabraher, Fair Hill, and Farranree, as well as Sunday’s Well, but the area is now one of the most geographically diverse in the new city.
In addition to the core inner city of Cork’s northside, extending as far as Pope’s Quay and the North Mall in the city centre, the ward will include vast swathes of rural land and much of the green belt that used to divide the city and county on the old western border of the city.
The village of Blarney, castle and all, has been incorporated into the new bounds of the expanded city, a challenge in and of itself.
Blarney was one of the many areas that was outspoken about its unique identity in the midst of the campaign that surrounded the redrawing of the city boundary.
As recently as September 2018, the county council remained hopeful of retaining the Blarney/Tower area. The local authority wrote to Oireachtas members seeking support to retain Blarney in the county.
The argument made was that other areas moving into the city, such as Grange, Douglas, and Togher, were essentially joined to the city already through roads infrastructure and commuter routes but that Blarney, Tower, and the adjacent hinterlands represented a different offering entirely.
Mayor of County Cork Patrick Gerard Murphy said that the areas are “settlements which constitute rural communities, separated geographically from Cork City, which have little in common with the city and its urban-centric focus, and which have no significant transport or infrastructural connectivity with the city”.
A significant expansion of Blarney had also been planned at Stoneview by the county council, while the nearby proposed development at Monard was also viewed as linked to Blarney.
The plans proposed moving Blarney into the city — but not Stoneview or Monard.
The matter reached the Dáil, with Independent TD Michael Collins claiming that Blarney, along with residents in Ballincollig, was being “forced into the city boundary” against residents’ will.
He said the changes were being “railroaded ahead”.
Ultimately, the opposition proved fruitless and the area was transferred.
The new North-West presents an entirely new challenge for Cork City Council and, indeed, whichever members are elected to the area.
For those that have already sat on Cork City Council, representing either the old North-West or the abolished North-Central wards, their work was almost entirely focused on urban issues: Housing, playgrounds, roads, and so forth.
These issues certainly won’t fall by the wayside in the coming months — the bulk of the population and, thus, the votes are still urban-based, but rural concerns are rapidly coming to the fore.
The 2016 census put the population of Blarney in the region of 2,500 people.
The ward as a whole now has a population of 40,181, which equates to 6,697 people per councillor.
As a result, there might be some justification for the concerns of those in north-west sections of the North-West ward.
The bulk of the population is centred in the traditional core of the old city ward and that is reflected in the candidates that have been put forward to date, too: The majority of those standing are from the city end of the local electoral area.
There are efforts by all the main parties to add constituencies from the rural end of the ward and, by that measure, it may actually represent n opportunity for some new blood in the area.