THE day of the part-time county councillor is drawing to a close under the reform of local electoral area boundaries, with words of warning sounded last week at County Hall as Fine Gael county councillors bemoaned the loss of local authority power brought about by their party in Government.
Under the reform there will be three electoral areas instead of five, with the number of councillors in Laois to drop from 25 to 19, six in the Graiguecullen/Portarlington district, six in Borris-in-Ossory/Mountmellick, and seven in Portlaoise.
Fine Gael’s Cllr Willie Aird voiced his discontent, saying that he did not understand the government’s new proposals.
“They’re reducing us by six seats and thinking they’re going to save something, I don’t see any sense in it,” he said.
Another FG politician, Cllr John King, pointed out that the Borris-in-Ossory/Mountmellick district was the largest area and he wondered whether there would be two sets of council engineers assigned.
However, their party colleague, Cllr Mary Sweeney believed that local authorities would have more control, although she recognised that councillors would now have to be full-time at the job.
Cllr Tom Mulhall, also FG, agreed that the councillors’ workload would increase.
“The days of the part-time councillor are in the past,” he said, adding: “It’s a bit like the Grand National - six horses will drop.”
“But the cream will still rise to the top,” interjected chairman, Cllr Paul Mitchell, Ind.
Cllr Jerry Lodge of Fianna Fáil remarked it was a sad day and he challenged Cllr Sweeney’s remarks on the amount of control the council would have.
“What extra powers have the local authority got? Housing is gone, water is gone, education grants are gone... anyone saying we have more power is fooling themselves.
“We should be very, very careful about welcoming anything that takes power away.”
Cllr Alan Hand said the reform would dissuade young people from entering into politics as there were big disincentives.
“These are mini-Dáil areas: it bodes well for the big parties, but it won’t lend itself to new blood,” he said.