At the start of this year, the Government set up two committees to review local electoral areas and to report within six months. That report and its recommendations will be considered by Minister of State, John Paul Phelan, as the basis for revising the local electoral areas.
Changes will be in place for the next local elections, on 25th May 2019. The policy objectives of the review are to reduce the size of territorially large local electoral areas and to designate urban-focused electoral areas around the larger towns.
In these circumstances, it is likely that Clare’s local election boundaries will be redrawn to take account of two territorially large electoral districts, West Clare and Killaloe. Changes will impact on Ennis and possibly the Shannon MDs.
In 2014 the Local Government Reform Act abolished 80 town councils nationally, including three in Clare. In conjunction with this, the Local Electoral Boundary Committee radically altered the electoral map boundaries in Clare by creating four new Municipal Districts in place of the six previous local election areas.
Consequently, the West Clare Municipal District encompasses more than half the land-mass of County Clare, a huge and cumbersome administrative district.
Deadline for making submissions to the boundary committees was 19th February. In all, there were 12 submissions relating to County Clare.
In its submission, Clare County Council asked that the following be taken into account in the review taking place:
1. Two of the electoral areas in County Clare, namely the West Clare and Killaloe, are territorially large and difficult to manage from a local government administrative perspective. Many people in these areas have long distances to travel to their local government centre.
2. It is not desirable that parishes would be split into two different electoral areas and this is the current situation in a number of areas in County Clare. The local and community identities associated with parishes are very strong and it is desirable that these be maintained.
In all eight sitting county councillors made submissions as follows:
Fianna Fáil councillor Pat McMahon requested that the Ballycar area should be returned to the Shannon Municipal District from the Killaloe MD.
He commented, “It has split the parish of Newmarket-on-Fergus nearly in half and is a totally unnatural division. The people tell me they have no affiliation with East Clare.
“The parish itself has a very strong economic and sporting tradition which the people feel very strongly about. It appears to be the opposite solution in a local democracy to vote local.”
Independent councillor PJ Ryan expressed concern with previous changes to boundaries affecting both Newmarket-on-Fergus and Cratloe.
In his submission, Cllr Ryan said, “it is important that the Shannon Municipal District should be kept in a block consisting of Newmarket-on-Fergus, Shannon, Bunratty, Cratloe, Meelick, Sixmilebridge, Kilmurry and Kilkishen.”
Fianna Fáil’s Alan O’Callaghan requested no change to the existing Killaloe MD. “The people of this area feel that they are happily served by their councillors, therefore, request for it not to be changed,” he said.
Fine Gael councillor Johnny Flynn expressed concern that Ennis may be split in two again to accommodate a revision of the electoral borders.
Noting that prior to 2014, Ennis had 9 town councillors and 9 county councillors in the Ennis East and Ennis West areas, Cllr Flynn said 18 councillors had represented the interests of Ennis and environs.
Cllr Flynn stated that the abolition of the 9-seater Ennis Town Council was a mistake. As an aside, this is something that may be remedied in time for the 2019 local elections following proposals to reinstate town councils for the country’s 28 largest towns.
In his submission, Cllr Johnny Flynn proposes that Ennis Municipal District should not be split into two wards and the number of councillors ought to be increased to nine.
He also suggests that the Ennis MD electorate could be reduced by over 4,000 voters by:
• Putting Clareabbey in the West Clare electoral area.
• Or; putting Quin, Clooney and Spancilhill in East Clare.
The first of these suggestions would directly impact on his party colleague, Cllr Paul Murphy. He also made a submission calling for Ennis to become a 7-seat constituency to include Clareabbey, due to its urban profile and the historical links that exist between Clarecastle and Ennis.
Cllr Murphy suggested that the Killone area is included in Ennis as many Ballyea residents live within 4km of Ennis and do not consider Kilrush to be their local town.
To counter this, he requested that the Killaniv area is taken into West Clare and that Quin, Clooney and Spancilhill become part of the Killaloe electoral area.