CLLR Bill O’Donnell said a letter he received from the county registrar about Grange polling station was “political correctness” gone wrong.
The Fine Gael councillor was speaking at a meeting of the Cappamore/Kilmallock municipal district.
The old school in Grange is not to be used as a polling station for May’s referendums as it has been closed for health and safety reasons. As Grange will be out of action on May 22 the county registrar, Patrick Wallace, chose Knockea National School as the new venue.
“It affects some 450 voters and they should be accommodated in either Bruff or Meanus and within the parish of Bruff/Grange/Meanus.
“Transferring the polling station to Knockea makes no sense whatsoever and will only work to discourage people from exercising their vote. We should be doing everything to encourage people to vote and we should not be putting obstacles in the way,” said Mr O’Donnell, who wrote to Mr Wallace and read out the reply to his fellow councillors.
“A primary school is a location of choice for a polling station over a hall all things being equal. For this reason I did not locate the Grange booth in Meanus polling station even though it is used as a polling station already,” wrote Mr Wallace, who is “endeavouring to provide polling stations which meet all the modern criteria of a polling station such as ramped entrances and disable toilet facilities”.
Mr Wallace went on to say that Knockea Primary School meets with all the necessary criteria.
“When I visited the hall in Meanus I noted that while it is level with the car park it does not have a disabled toilet. Knockea has two disabled toilets,” wrote Mr Wallace.
Mr O’Donnell also read out a section of the letter where Mr Wallace expressed concerns about using Meanus hall which is located at the junction of two secondary roads.
“It would double the volume of traffic and in consequence increase the risk of traffic problems if not road traffic accidents. The car park of the hall in Meanus has limited space meaning that those with a disability, who need to drive near to the hall may not be able to do so, and have to park on the Main Road increasing inconvenience. Knockea Primary School is located on a quiet cul-de-sac where the only traffic on the day will, by and large, be the voters,” wrote Mr Wallace.
The county registrar said in the letter that relocating Grange polling station outside its own area will mean that most voters will be inconvenienced in having to travel longer distances to vote - no matter where the relocated polling station is.
“I considered the option of Bruff Primary School and excluded it on the basis that there was already sufficient polling booths there. I also considered that some voters would have to travel as far to Bruff as some would have to travel to Knockea,” wrote Mr Wallacce.
After reading out the letter, Mr O’Donnell said it was “political correctness gone wrong”. The councillor stressed the importance of having facilities for disabled people but said “some who have difficulties with mobility would suffer Meanus over the road than Knockea seven miles away”.
“The letter is a frightening response to a simple issue,” said Mr O’Donnell.
“Bruff has all the modern facilities. What he is saying doesn’t add up. It is putting an obstacle in the way,” he added.
Mr O’Donnell said the good news is the old school in Grange will be brought back into the use of the community.
Cllr Brigid Teefy said they are trying to encourage people to vote and this is making it more difficult.
Cllr Lisa-Marie Sheehy said that attitude [the letter] is not acceptable.
“I am seriously concerned the way it is deterring people to vote in an important referendum,” said Cllr Sheehy.
Cllr Gerald Mitchell said this has raised serious issues.
“Is this new criteria? And is it going to be carried out across the country?” asked Cllr Mitchell.
Kieran Lehane, director of service, said they want everybody to take part in the democratic process.
“You do want a minimum number of votes to protect the secrecy of the ballot,” he said.