sITTING city councillors are in a battle to hold on to their seats as the boundary review looks set to establish three “metropolitan” electoral areas which will swamp the former city wards with suburban voters.
Members of Limerick City Council are set to meet this Wednesday but many doubt that an agreed position can be reached on a submission - ahead of this Friday’s deadline - to the Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee established by Minister Phil Hogan.
What is generally agreed is that Minister Hogan wants to create a metropolitan area of Greater Limerick, which would have a population of around 100,000 and be divided into one six-seat and two seven-seat electoral areas, predominantly urban in character.
Cllr Diarmuid Scully, Fine Gael, and Cllr Joe Leddin, Labour, said it had been made clear to councillors that there would be no more than 40 of them returned in 2014 after Limerick City and County Councils are amalgamated.
But Cllr James Collins, Fianna Fail, said it was unclear whether Limerick could argue for an additional five councillors when the committee’s terms of reference state that “in cases where the city and county councils are being merged, i.e. Limerick and Waterford, there should be five additional members”.
And Fine Gael’s Cllr Pat Kennedy has urged colleagues to consider a legal challenge should local political representation in Limerick city and county - currently at 45 councillors - be reduced to 40.
But the terms of reference also say all changes should be “subject to” a maximum of 40 councillors in any local authority outside of Dublin and Cork.
“It will be 40 councillors and the minister has signed off on that. Anybody saying otherwise is wrong and what will likely happen is they will be split 20:20 with 20 seats in the expanded city electoral areas and 20 in the county and they will be roughly equal in population,” said Cllr Joe Leddin.
City councillors are working with LIT’s Ciaran Lynch on what the three city electoral areas might look like.
Among the proposals are combining 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 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.
Fianna Fail’s Cllr Kieran O’Hanlon has said extending the new “north” electoral area to as far as Singland, Lynwood Park and Castletroy View could provide for a seven-seat area.
But Cllr Scully, who represents Singland, said this would effectively cut off Castletroy from the city.
“What we would be left with would be an entire ‘county’ area apart from Southill, Janesboro and Singland, which would be almost entirely suburban and have no regard for the city centre.
“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,” said Cllr Scully.
City councillors also fear that it will in future elections be much more difficult for low-income areas of the inner city to have political representation. Votes in areas such as Ballinacurra Weston and Southill could be diluted by being included with huge suburban areas such as Dooradoyle and Castletroy.
“I think that is an inevitability unfortunately,” said Cllr Leddin.
“I was elected in 1999 with 400 votes. Now you are looking at getting well north of 1500 or 1600 and possibly up to 2,000 votes to get elected and that is a huge challenge for us,” he added.
Cllr John Gilligan, who gets a strong working class vote in the city, said “change is coming no matter what we say so we should just get on with it and not just be looking at what might be good for us on our own patch”.
Cllr Scully said turnout in the city had traditionally been much lower than in the suburbs and this presented city councillors with an added challenge.
If Limerick City North is combined with Limerick City East, it could mean 10 outgoing councillors will be fighting for as few as six seats, Cllr O’Hanlon said.
“Whatever way you slice it up, it means the people will have less representation,” he said.