Longford Town councillors are eyeing up the prize of securing as many as nine of the county’s predicted 18 seats when final decisions on Longford’s new look local government structure is drawn up.
The move to acquire approximately half of the formal representation Environment Minister Phil Hogan is likely to afford Longford voters after the 2014 local elections was thrashed out at a special meeting of the local authority last Tuesday (October 30).
And in a further admission, more than one councillor said they would continue to sit voluntarily as an elected representative should Mr Hogan and department officials carry out an unexpected U-turn.
In a previous article carried by this newspaper last month, it was speculated that three main municipal districts would dominate, taking the form of north, mid and south electoral areas.
Each, it was mooted, were anticipated to hold six locally elected representatives. But at last week’s meeting, the possibility of gaining an even greater representational share was debated.
“He (Mr Hogan) has pointed to 2 nines (municipal district allocation numbers) is the 18 seat scenarios,” said Cllr Paul Connell. “Where would that leave us? Probably with the town getting more representation.”
It was a suggestion which several other sitting councillors warmly endorsed. “It looks like a done deal (town council abolition),” remarked a rueful Cllr Denis Hughes. “We should maybe now try to put our efforts into getting the minimum of six (seats) up to nine when the new municipal authority is formed.”
The Fine Gael representative’s comments were given further weight by Cllr Gerry Warnock. The Independent politician, who also sits as one of the council’s incumbent delagates on its broader representational body, the AMAI (Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland) said it was “highly improbable” government leaders were likely to reverse their decision.
Rather, the focus, Cllr Warnock said should now switch to maximising Longford town’s political clout at a local level.
“I don’t honestly think the retention of town councils is on the table for us any more. I just feel that we should now start to lobby to get an increased number of nine in the Longford town area,” he said.
Others, led by the likes of Cllrs Tony Flaherty and Michael Connellan were more critical of the stance taken by the Government.
Cllr Connellan laughed off suggestions cost savings of $420m would be made especially when a town councillor’s average salary was $4,000 before tax.
“It’s a sad day and a decision that for me makes no sense whatsoever,” he calmly stated, as he called for the council spend whatever monies that was still available to them before 2014.
“That money or whatever money is there belongs to the Town Council. It is important that we spend every red cent. We have approximately two years to spend that and I think it is important that we spend all the money (on planned and future projects) that is in our account.”
Cllr Tony Flaherty was just as animated. In taking a swipe at previous comments made by Co Mayor Cllr Sean Farrell about the future of town councils, the Fianna Fail representative vowed to oppose the cutbacks with or without his fellow colleagues.
“I am gutted to be sitting here as a single mandate councillor,” he dispondently admitted. “We can’t stand by and let this happen and I can’t honestly believe my colleagues are sitting here accepting defeat. I’m not in this for the money and I would happily sit here voluntarily. We (Town Council) are on life support here and I, for one, don’t want the machine to switched off.”
Whether he manages to avoid that likelihood, only time will tell.