Outside the Ballot Box with Claire Gallagher

Looking at the new Killaloe Electoral Area you would be forgiven for thinking that someone in the Boundary Commission had a bad day at work, took it home and said to their child “Here is a crayon, divide up that drawing into four areas and call the piece with that town in it – Killaloe.”
However examining more carefully the final creation seven months after it was finally published, you would wonder could a crayon-yielding child really have got the division of Clare into four electoral areas so very wrong?
The line, be it crayon or digital, that surrounds the Killaloe area, all but divides houses, and it certainly divides villages and segregates parishes.
While Corofin and Ruan are on opposite sides of the West Clare – Killaloe border (the crayon must have been a thick one) so too are the parishes of Kilnaboy and Carron. Newmarket on Fergus and Sixmilebridge parishes have also been cut in half with the stroke of a pen (or crayon) and now straddle the electoral areas of Shannon and Killaloe.
To be fair to the committee, or the imaginary child with the crayon, it was confined in what it could do to a huge degree by the guidelines set down by central government.
These guidelines to say the least were urban focused.
As a result the new electoral area structure sees 60 more councillors in the greater Dublin area, while rural Ireland has significantly less.
Under these guidelines there could not be anymore than six councillors in any area, and these areas had to have at least 29,000 people. This master plan has its merits in areas of high density housing but when your nearest neighbour is two miles away, unless you count the cows one mile away, then the puzzle does not work.
The result is villages and parishes divided in half and communities that never before were considered as a natural grouping forced together.
Questions remain as to what commonality lies between East Clare areas such as Clonlara and Killaloe and the traditionally North Clare areas of Tubber and Boston.
If the guidelines set out by the boundary committee in drawing up these new local electoral area boundaries hadn’t stipulated that no area could be smaller than six councillors with an average of 4,830 people per councillor, then this area could have been very different.
Putting areas like Cappavilla and Kiltenanlea in the south of this constituency into Shannon or part of the north into the West Clare constituency would probably make more sense locally, but this would also result in a five seater Killaloe electoral area, which is not allowed under the guidelines.
But what is the big deal with a five-seat Killaloe area, that would allow New Quay and Bellharbour connect up with their old neighbours from the Ennistymon Electoral Area now in the new West Clare Area?
Surely a smaller five seater area would mean less roads, fewer potholes, not as much work and wait for it… less mileage and expenses.
The argument that each electoral area be called after the largest town or municipal district also falls on its face when you consider the new area that is to be called West Clare. Here there are two towns, Kilrush and Ennistymon , so it was decided to give the area a generic name. So why wasn’t the same principal applied for the Killaloe area?
Are the people of Tubber now going to automatically identify with the town of Killaloe and drive all the way there for their weekly business, while Ennistymon is just a few miles away?
Probably the most concerning issue for the people living in the northern half of the Killaloe Electoral Area is that could end up with no local representation.
The larger population is in the south, and as most people vote local when it comes to these elections this put candidates in the mid and south of this constituency at a huge advantage. It will be a challenge for those in the extreme north to bag themselves a councillor.
In life there are exceptions to all rules, especially when there are exceptional rules.
It is time to change the rules for drawing up electoral areas, especially in rural areas, or alternatively divide the county of Clare into three areas – North West, Shannon (to include the east) and Ennis.
Either way, I suspect there will be a return to the drawing board before the 2019 local elections. Let’s hope the crayon has been replaced by a more flexible pencil by then.

For more see The Clare People or visit our Digital Edition.


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