Six new county districts proposed...
County Wexford could be about to increase its number of electoral districts, jumping from four to six, with Wexford town benefiting from additional councillors in their area.
Recommendations have been made by the Boundary Committee following a review of all local electoral areas across the country which was set up with a view to revising election areas. The committee, set up by Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform John Paul Phelan, was instructed to have regard to the Census 2016 results and to assume no change in total membership of each local authority. Areas, it was directed, should have no less than five councillors and no more than seven. In certain circumstances, three or four-seat areas could be recommended in accordance with population and geographic size of the area.
Submissions were accepted until February and the committee was given until June 13 to bring a report to the Minister. The last review was carried out in 2013 ahead of local authority changes and the abolition of town and borough councils.
Wexford town based councillors, who number four of the current ten councillor Wexford Borough District council, have frequently expressed their frustration at the under-representation of constituents in the town areas. In 2014, with the abolition of the town councils, Wexford town went from being a 12-seat borough council to a ten-seat borough and district council, a move which town-based councillors have lamented since the chance occurred.
According to Census 2016, County Wexford has a population of 149,722, with the largest settlement being Wexford town, representing 13% of the population at 20,188.
With that increased population, spread across 34 members, the individual average population per member in the county is 4,404.
The new electoral areas will be Gorey, Kilmuckridge, Enniscorthy, Wexford, Kilmore and New Ross. For the purpose of municipal meetings, Kilmuckridge will combine with Enniscorthy, and Kilmore will combine with Wexford. The breakdown of councillors across the county will be: six in Enniscorthy, six in Gorey, five in Kilmore, four in Kilmuckridge, six in New Ross, and seven in Wexford.
Effectively, both Gorey and Enniscorthy District councils are losing two councillors each to the Kilmuckridge district, while New Ross will lose two local representatives and see traditionally New Ross areas, like Clongeen, Bannow and Ballymitty moving into the Kilmore local area.
The committee made the recommendations, saying the new areas should have a focus around urban centres.
The Wexford electoral area will encompass the town and its environs as far as Ardcolm, Killurin, and down to parts of Drinagh and Rathaspeck not covered in the Kilmore area.
Meanwhile, Kilmore will take in the locations between the points of Our Lady's Island, Bannow, Taghmon and Drinagh. Considering that a number of the current Wexford district councillors hail from locations within this new area, there will be considerable interest in candidates ahead of next year's Local Elections.
The newly established Kilmuckridge district will include Ballycanew, Ballygarrett, Cahore, and will stretch down as far as Edermine and Castle Ellis.
Formerly areas that would have been discussed at Gorey meetings, the area will now join up with the Enniscorthy district.
...but most did not want any changes made
Submissions to the Boundary Commission were accepted until mid-February and it was a subject that numerous councillors in County Wexford felt strongly about, making their own observations on the process.
Three Wexford Borough District councillors made solo submissions. The entire Gorey Municipal District Council made a joint submission through District Manager Amanda Byrne; members of the Fianna Fáil party made a collective submission, and a number of that party's members also made individual submissions.
Independent councillor for Gorey Mary Farrell believed that, historically, having four electoral areas had been effective and any change would have a negative impact. She believed that councillors were already overworked and any reduction of numbers in their area would be detrimental. She also believed a change of boundary would negatively affect independent councillors who would not have a party machine behind them to make ground in a new area.
She remarked: 'If it's not broken, why fix it?'
Wexford town based councillor Davy Hynes lamented the abolition of the town councils in 2014 saying no one had been given a vote on it. He remarked: 'Anything less than restoration is only tinkering and won't improve local government in any meaningful way.'
The Gorey Municipal District submission said that any change of boundaries would impact on long standing relationships that local communities and district had with their local authority.
The Wexford branch of Fianna Fáil felt that there was no need to break from the four areas, other than to split Wexford into two five-seater groupings. They pointed out places like Kilrush-Askamore, Ferns, Boolavogue, Glynn, Screen and Clonroche that were split between two electoral areas.
Cllr Malcolm Byrne believed that little disruption was needed around the county and suggested that the splitting of Wexford into two five-seater areas would solve issues of representation.
Cllr Barbara Anne Murphy felt that if the boundaries were drawn up wrong, it would result in citizen disengagement. She also said that places with shared identities should not be split between two districts.
Cllr George Lawlor, in his submission, felt there was an imbalance in the number of town based councillors saying that prior to 2014, 12 had represented a population of 20,000 and now four councillors had the same amount, making the workload almost impossible. He believed that the Mayor was now anonymous to large sections of the community due to the district size and felt that a very definite urban-rural divide had developed. He believed that the town had suffered and that a split area, with a town mayor and a chairman in the rural area, was the solution.
Cllr Pip Breen felt that any changes would bring disruption and cost with no improvement in delivery of services.
Finally, Cllr Jim Moore argued that the Wexford district was a 50-50 split between rural and urban, saying that some parishes stretched into what was deemed an urban area. He felt that changing the boundaries would create an urban-rural divide and provide transparency on the subject of equality between the two areas. He added that people in a district tended to gravitate towards their nearest town and integration should be prioritised.
One man who will spy opportunity in the boundary changes is Labour area representative and former councillor Joe Ryan who felt the ring fencing of seven seats for Wexford should secure better representation for the people of Wexford town. He felt that the question of whether the change is good for Wexford town or not would ultimately be determined by the candidates elected and whether they could work together in the interests of the largest town in the county.
He added that the newly established Kilmore area was effectively a 'group of death' as at least five outgoing councillors will be contesting five seats, with undoubtedly stiff competition from other candidates in the area.