The Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee set up at the end of November 2012 will report before the end of May next and its recommendations will be eagerly awaited by both the current set of County Councillors and prospective candidates alike.
Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan recently launched the document ‘Putting people first’ last September which effectively abolished local town councils and, in counties with smaller populations, the number of members of the local authority was cut. In Co Leitrim this led to the recomendation that the number of councillors be cut from 22 to 18.
The Boundary committee will set out in their final report how many electoral areas there will be and how many members will be selected in each of these individual areas. It is recommended that areas will comprise of between 6 and 10 members however speculation is that Co Leitrim may have three electoral areas with six seats each given the geographical size of the County, however this is far from certain.
The focus for the boundary committee will be on the Census 2011 figures for Leitrim which is just short of 32,000 people that would represent a population of 1,767 persons per elected member.
The terms of reference indicate that Local Electoral Areas should be designed, as far as possible, around the existing boroughs and other municipal towns and large urban centres which do not currently enjoy municipal status and in recommending changes to local electoral areas, the Committee should take due account of local and community identities and linkages and, as far as practicable, of existing local authority electoral and administrative areas.
If the perceived view was to manifest itself in reality then the current Manorhamilton electoral area would be extended down as far as Lough Allen where just short of 11,000 people reside forming a six seat electoral area with two more six seat areas south of Lough Allen, one obviously based around Carrick-on-Shannon the County town.
It is expected that submissions will be submitted on behalf of some of the Councilors, candidates and political parties on how the axe should fall which will have to be with the committee prior to the 31st of this month to be valid.
Fine Gael is currently the largest party on Leitrim County Council with 10 members out of 22. However, it is felt that it will be hugely difficult for them to retain that strength on a Council with 18 members. The final outcome of the Boundary Committee report will influence some of the members on whether they will run again in 2014 or opt for retirement. Party strategists will reflect on the number of candidates based on location of course but also taking into account the party’s poll popularity in May 2014, running too many candidates with poor transfers is risky if Fine Gael’s poll ratings drop.
Fianna Fail lost two seats in 2009 and is still strongly represented with eight members. If they were to retain this number in 2014 it would be really a net gain based on the reduced overall numbers. The party will be anxious to gain a presence in the towns of Carrick-on-Shannon and Manorhamilton where they have no public representatives at present.
Sinn Fein elected Michael Colreavy to the Dail in 2011 and will seek to increase their representation at local level. Martin Kenny is their sole representative - Sean McSharry, who was co-opted following Deputy Colreavey’s election to the Dail, is now running as an independent after Sinn Fein asked him to stand down from the seat last year and he refused to give up his seat. The Party will be anxious to come back with at least two councilors next year whether that is possible will be down to candidate selection especially within the Carrick-on Shannon area where the party has failed in successive elections to elect a member from the largest town in the County.
The election itself will be held in May 2014 to coincide with the European Election which is just over 70 weeks away. Selection conventions will be held by the political parties from September next where party handles will be anxious to put their candidates in place in good time before campaigning starts the following March.
It is expected that plenty of Independent candidates will consider running when they see the outcome of the deliberations of the boundary committees report where they will hope to increase the current membership of three Independents.
The committee are currently accepting submissions, details can be found at www.boundarycommittee.ie