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Councillors set for big showdown

Political showdown

Only two councillors rule themselves out of 2014 race

Edwin McGreal

The 2014 local elections will be one of the most competitive in Mayo history with as many as fifty sitting councillors set to run again for less than 30 seats under new reforms.
Last week’s local government reforms look set to almost halve the number of councillors in the county and  there will be one serious battle for those seats.
The abolition of the town councils in the reforms means 27 positions in the three town councils in Mayo will go. A number of county council seats are expected to go as well.
However the jostling for spots in the new municipal districts is likely to start immediately following the revelation in a Mayo News poll of every current sitting councillor that only two councillors have ruled themselves out of the running.
There are 52 councillors in the county, 31 of whom sit on the county council, 27 on Ballina, Castlebar or Westport town councils and six have seats on both the county and a town council.
Only two councillors - Michael McLaughlin, a Fine Gael councillor for Westport Town Council and Mary Kelly, an Independent councillor for Ballina Town Council - have confirmed they won’t be running.
There is expected to be in the region of just under 30 seats throughout the county in the new municipal districts and 50 of the current town and county councillors have indicated they may put their name forward for either party selection convention or, in the case of independents, the election itself.
Thirtyt-two councillors confirmed that they will be putting their name forward for the 2014 election while eighteen councillors said that they will wait to see more precise details of the reforms and how the county will be split into municipal districts before making a decision.
Of the Fine Gael councillors in the county, sixteen have committed to putting their name forward while eleven remain undecided. The irony won’t be lost on them that reforms initiated by their own party-led government will end some of their careers.
Eight Fine Gael councillors come out, broadly, against the proposed reforms while another six are undecided until they see more specific details of how the new municipal districts will work in practice. Fourteen Fine Gael councillors gave their backing to the reforms.
Among those to oppose the reforms are Cllr Henry Kenny, a brother of the Taoiseach and Cllr Ger Deere, who is Enda Kenny’s parliamentary secretary.
Cllr Henry Kenny suggested that the decision to cull the town councils had him ‘wondering’ while he also said he was worried about how cuts to local authority might impact on the provision of council services.
Cllr Ger Deere, a town councillor in Castlebar, said the abolition of the town councils ‘is bad in my view when you look at what Castlebar got out of it in terms of the Lough Lannagh Riverwalk and the town centre redevelopment’ but added that ‘we were elected to reform so that has to be done’.
Labour’s two councillors in the county are sharply divided on the proposals backed by their leader and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. Cllr Keith Martin, a Westport town councillor, described them as ‘a betrayal’ by the leader of their party but Cllr Harry Barrett, a Castlebar town councillor, said the changes are needed as ‘we have too many politicians in this county’ and that people ‘don’t want to see waste in the public sector’.
While Mayo will lose 27 town councillors, indications are that the county’s representation of 31 councillors will diminish by less than a handful. Numbers ranging from 27 to 30 have been mentioned by sitting councillors and council officials who themselves have been trying to find out what the future holds.
There has been talk of four municipal authorities, based around the three towns losing their town councils and Claremorris. Belmullet, in this scenario, will likely go into Ballina.
However there is also speculation that there is no natural home in either of these four new areas for Belmullet and Achill and that the current Belmullet Electoral Area will remain, as a three or four seater.
Additional reporting by Neill O’Neill, Michael Duffy, Anton McNulty, Ciara Galvin and Rowan Gallagher.

HAVE YOUR SAY email edwinmcgreal@mayonews.ie with your comments