More home help and special needs assistants not more councillors

Friday, November 16, 2012

Last month Mr. Phil Hogan, T.D., Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, announced “the most radical, ambitious and far-reaching governance reform plans ever put forward by an Irish government". 

The proposals, called 'Putting People First', included the abolition off all 80 town councils and their 744 council seats. This left 31 integrated local authorities with 883 councillors.

This week he established a committee to review the local electoral boundaries and the number of councillors in each area and each county. This reform is long over due. As populations have changed over the decades, imbalances have grown in representation levels. In Leitrim the ratio of councillors is as low as 1 per 1,800 population compared to 1 per 11,400 in Fingal.

However, instead of reducing the number of councillors in less populated areas, the Minister has decided to increase the numbers in the higher populated commuter belts around Dublin and in Cork. The total number of county and city councillors will increase by 67.

The terms of reference for the boundary commission state that where possible there should be one councillor for every 4,830 population. Fingal, with a population of over 273,991, would see numbers increase from the current 24 to 56. However, the Minister has set the maximum number of councillors at 40 per council which seems the likely outcome for Fingal (1 per 6850). Dublin City is to get 11 more councillors at the next local elections in June 2014 bringing the total from 52 to 63.


He has also signaled that there will be more councillors in each area as each electoral ward should typically have 7 councillors with a maximum of 10 and a minimum of 6.

In Dublin West, with a population of 99,923, there are 5 Councillors in the Mulhuddart Ward and 4 in Castleknock. At the next local elections there will likely be at least 4 to 5 additional councillors, bringing to 14 the number turning up at every pothole and broken footpath. What we really need are smaller wards not large ones with more councillors.

There will be much head scratching among the ratepayers and taxpayers at all of this. There are a lot of things we need 
from the government right now but more councillors is not one of them. I am often asked for additional special needs assistants in our schools, care assistants and police officers, but not more local representatives. 

It is no secret in the corridors of Leinster House that all of this is being done at the behest of the Labour Party. The Party is languishing in the polls and is expected to take a thrashing at the next local elections. Doubling the number of council seats in the commuter counties where they have the most seats and allowing larger wards is designed to save as much of Labour’s bacon as possible. Some might even consider it a gerrymander.

With nine or ten seats up for grabs in each ward at election time the likelyhood is that all sorts of oddballs will end up representing us, from Sinn Fein and the Green Party to Independents like Ming Flannagan and Mick Wallace. Roll on next May.

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