Mixed views have been expressed regarding a possible imbalance in the make-up of the Municipal Districts in Clare.
Following the redrawing of the electoral boundaries, there are five areas in the county for the local elections (Ennis, Ennistymon, Killaloe, Kilrush and Shannon) however despite the changes the four Municipal Districts in the county will remain with Ennistymon (four seats) and Kilrush (five seats) continuing to merge to form the West Clare Municipal District.
On Wednesday, the West Clare MD met for the first time following May’s local elections with all nine councillors present. The Clare Echo spoke to six elected representatives and two of the unsuccessful candidates to get their views.
Sinn Féin candidate Noeleen Moran was highly critical of the structures. “There will be a permanent inbuilt majority in favour of West Clare when it comes to allocation of funding. The division of the area into two LEAs appears to have been designed purely to accommodate the larger parties for electoral purposes. There has been historically a pattern of neglect in North Clare when it comes to investment in our roads, housing and basic infrastructure it is not good enough that this is being allowed to continue. North Clare needs it’s own Municipal District with a separate budget to redress years of neglect”.
Cllr Ian Lynch is hopeful the elected councillors will be able to work as a team for the benefit of the whole area. “When it was released last year I had my concerns, it doesn’t make sense that they would have two electoral areas and then join them to have four and five. On a previous Council it was practically four and four and we always had an understanding that we had to split the money fairly which was best for the area. West Clare is going to be a big challenge the next time because there is certain stuff that will suit the Kilrush area that won’t suit Ennistymon and vice versa. We’ll have to make sure everyone is working as a team and it’s the one thing that comes out of the West Clare area that they challenges be approached as a team and looking at it objectively to make sure it is a right fit for that area. The money will have to be shared, it can’t be five against four, we’re voted in by the people of our area in Kilrush and Ennistymon but we represent everyone north and south for the West Clare area”.
Kilkee councillor Cillian Murphy maintained the interlinking issues would be best served by regular contact at meetings. “Like in all things there are things we will be able to work together on, I’ve already been talking to Shane Talty about Bus Éireann, it doesn’t travel from Lahinch to Kilkee which in this day and age is bananas, the Wild Atlantic Way is promoted all over the world and yet here we are Google Maps is the single biggest travel app in the world and yet if you google public transport from Lahinch to Kilkee it takes you into Ennis, those are things that the two Municipalities can work together on. For sure, we’re all smart people and big enough to be able to say that’s something ye can look after and that’s something we need to look after. If there are products and items that we can work on together and learn a bit from each other, then that’s the way to go”.
According to Cllr Roisin Garvey, the splitting of areas leaves lasting consequences. “They split us up like, we were together and now we’re not. What are they doing, I think we should be separate. It makes no sense to have us as one, we were one and now they split us so we have the North Clare Municipal District and West Clare. I don’t know what they’re at, it’s confusing, they split us up, we have eight seats for 47 percent of the landmass, they spilt that up and not only did they do that but they split the parishes. I ran in a parish that was split in three, I had neighbours that were in three different electoral areas which is an absolute joke. Every community activist will tell you they are trying to bring communities and parishes together, that’s what you do, play hurling together and rally around each other whether it’s the ICA, IFA or GAA team that’s what makes parishes strong, them coming together. We saw it in Inagh/Kilnamona, it took years, when I grew up as a kid they were arch enemies and now they have a lovely amazing relationship across all boards. To split a parish for an election is an absolute disgrace”.
Fine Gael’s sole councillor Joe Garrihy is happy to be joined by his colleague Cllr Gabriel Keating for bi-monthly meetings as a result. “North Clare, West Clare, Co Clare we’re a small place, what’s good for North Clare is good for West Clare I think we need to work together and be strategic in bringing investment and tackling the challenges, both areas are predominantly rural communities that have identical issues and challenges, the chances of successfully tackling them are going to be greatly increased if we work together”.
Clare’s longest serving councillor, PJ Kelly felt the size of the area was reason enough for them to be divided in two. “If right was right they should be two separated Municipals because they take up almost half the land mass of Clare. It’s nice if you’re in an electoral people to know the people from one end to the other end, I can’t say I know the people up in Ballyvaughan and the people in Ballyvaughan don’t know me and the people in Labasheeda don’t know the people in Ballyvaughan and vice versa. I think we should have municipal in the same way we have Kilrush and North Clare”.
A similar viewpoint was shared by his party colleague, Cllr Bill Chambers. “Together it’s too big, we had fifty percent of the landmass of Clare from Loop Head to Ballyvaughan is a big area to cover and I don’t think you could give it the attention that you would like to give it”.
Joseph Woulfe who narrowly missed out on the final seat in the Kilrush LEA is in favour of both areas merging for their bi-monthly meetings. “It’s way more logical that they are meeting together because it’s all crossing over. All the roads are connected, they don’t stop because of a boundary capacity, they keep flowing. If the other way was suggested I’d be worried. They all flow together and people move from one area to another and everyone is connected through family connections, transport links, people are all the time going with things and what helps one helps them all”.