THE Government commission which will determine the make-up and numbers in the new Limerick local authority will be appointed within the next 10 days, Fine Gael’s Deputy Patrick O’Donovan has said.
And he expects that it will make its recommendations by next March, well over a year before the next local elections.
But Fianna Fail councillor Kevin Sheahan has criticised the time-frame as too tight, saying it is unfair to voters, to existing councillors and to aspiring councillors, given the huge shake-up that will be involved.
Cllr Sheahan has also criticised the Minister responsible, Phil Hogan, claiming he has broken a commitment made to councillors earlier this year.
“My biggest gripe is that the Minister said he was setting up the commission in September and we would have a result by January,” Cllr Sheahan said. “My expectation now is that we will not know until June.”
Cathaoirleach Jerome Scanlon agreed the timeframe in the run-up to the elections for the amalgamated council was “very, very tight”. Mr O’Donovan, however, defended it, arguing it was in line with normal procedure following a census.
It is widely expected that the number of councillors on the new Limerick local authority will be 40, a reduction on the current total of 45, which is made up of 28 on the County Council and 17 on the city council.
The biggest concern for all councillors however, is how the five county electoral areas and four city wards will be reconfigured.
According to some political pundits, there will be at most six electoral areas in the new local authority – two six-seaters and four seven-seaters. Three of these could be within the the enlarged Limerick metropolitan area – with a further three in the county, centred around Newcastle West, Rathkeale and Kilmallock. Councillors are concerned at losing their base - or losing their historic area or ward altogether.
Cllr Sheahan also has a problem with the proposal to establish Limerick city as a metropolitan area with a population of 100,000. This, he suggested, will mean that the city’s new electoral areas will push out well beyond the current environs and into rural Co Limerick.
“It will have to come as far as Mungret or even parts of Clarina,” he predicted. “That will mean we will be baling hay in the middle of a city electoral area, which is daft.”
He has called for the Parteen/Shannon Banks area, to be included in the Limerick metropolitan area, saying it has developed into a “natural suburb” of Limerick although it is technically in Co Clare.
Mr O’Donovan is opposed to this arguing that county boundaries must be respected as part of local government reorganisation. But he also believes that natural geogrpahical boundaries should be respected and that existing infrastructure such as area offices also be taken into consideration.
In any reshaping of electoral areas, Mr O’Donovan says the main objective must be to achieve a level playing field as far as possible. But he also believes it might be necessary to weight the quotas for councillors in sprawling rural electoral areas in order to achieve fair play.
Meanwhile, Cathaoirleach Jerome Scanlan says he is confident that good progress is being made towards a single local authority for Limerick. The final report of the implementation group is due to be submitted this month.