IN a last-ditch effort to meet Friday’s deadline, city and county councillors were meeting separately this Wednesday to try and reach agreement about the political shape of the new-look Limerick City and County Council.
Already, the 28 county councillors and 17 city councillors had failed to reach an agreed joint position to submit to the Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee which has the job of redrawing electoral areas and wards for the new merged local authority.
But by this Wednesday evening, city councillors had also failed to reach a consensus on a submission of their own. Individual councillors and parties are now expected to make their own submissions.
Meanwhile, over at County Hall, county councillors were attempting to agree on one of two draft submissions.
“I would be very hopeful we will get agreement,” Fine Gael leader in the county council, John Sheahan said before going into a party meeting.
Other county councillors, however, were not so sure.
The shake-up of historical electoral areas in both the city and county however has given rise to deep unease among councillors at risk of losing their stomping grounds but also among communities who fear annihilation of their identity or who are afraid of arbitrary boundaries.
As things stand, however, very little is certain about the outcome of the carve-up.
What is generally agreed however is Limerick city and environs is set to become a new metropolitan area of up to 100,000 people and the likelihood is that it will have three electoral areas with 20 councillors.
The county area would have an almost identical population, also with 20 councillors. Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail support a three-way carve-up of the county area centred around Kilmallock, Rathkeale and Newcastle West but Labour’s position, articulated by Cllr Tomas Hannon is for two municipal areas, east and west, in the county.
The big question for many councillors and many communities, however, is where the cut-off point for the new metropolitan boundary will go.
Turlough Herbert, for example, who is chairman of Ahane GAA club and involved in Castleconnell Fisheries Association, fears the new boundary could split the parish of Ahane, Castleconnell, Mountpelier down the middle.
“If the split comes to pass, from every point of view GAA, community, etc, I think in five or six years time we will be looking back and see this as the beginning of the end for what is a very vibrant parish and community,” Mr Herbert said.
In the west of the county, Rathkeale Community Council was fearful the carve-up would take away the town’s status as an administrative centre which would spell the death-knell for the town.
How the three electoral areas in Limerick Metropolitan area will be redrawn has also thrown up concerns.
One proposal would be to combine the current Limerick City North with most if not all of Limerick City East in a six or seven-seater. The remainder of Limerick City East and some of Limerick City South could then be extended to take in Castletroy and Annacotty. And the rest of Limerick City South - including the central business district - would be combined with Dooradoyle, Raheen and Mungret. Other combinations are also being examined but, argued Cllr Diarmuid Scully FG, this Wednesday: “Where we want to be is having an element of both the suburbs and the city centre whereby we would have to canvass in the suburbs and the county councillors would have to canvass the city centre.”
City councillors also fear that, in future elections, it could be much more difficult for low-income areas of the inner city to have political representation.
County councillors this Wednesday had two draft submissions to decide about. Both argue for three electoral areas but one is based on securing 22 out of 40 councillors in the following combination: : Kilmallock 9, Newcastle West 7 and Rathkeale 6. The second assumes the total number of councillors will be 45, because the terms of reference were confusing, but this idea has been knocked on the head by a number of councillors among them Cllr Joe Leddin.
To further add to the confusion, Fianna Fail has prepared its own submission for the county, with Kilmallock to have a 9-seater and Rathkeale and Newcastle West to become six-seaters. But opposition to this could come from Askeaton based Cllr Kevin Sheahan who has argued against dividing the estuary coastline between two different electoral areas.
Fianna Fail councilr leader Cllr Michael Collins stressed that ultimately it was the boundary committee which would decide. The committee is expected to announce its decisions in May.
Submissions will be accepted from individuals or interested parties up to 5pm this Friday at .