The July meeting of Athlone Town Council revealed a widespread fear among councillors that the town will effectively be Mullingar’s poor relation when the new local authority for the county comes into force in 2014.
In direct and passing comments during the meeting several elected members referred to what Cllr Kieran Molloy described as the possibility Athlone’s councillors will be going to Mullingar “with a begging bowl”.
In her first address as mayor of the town council, Cllr Gabrielle McFadden said it is a matter of personal sadness to her that she will be the town’s last ever mayor, as the town council will be stood down after next year’s local elections.
“It’s no accident that other towns which are doing well strike rates and have local representatives,” she said, citing other successful towns like Killarney.
Speaking after the meeting she said she hopes Athlone won’t suffer.
In the past Athlone had elected councillors and had local executives who lived in the town, she said, and was worried that will be lost.
“That’s why I feel it’s very important next year in the local election that very strong candidates are put forward and very strong candidates are elected to represent Athlone when they do have to go to Mullingar, because we don’t want Athlone to suffer.”
Outgoing mayor Jim Henson shares those concerns, but said he doesn’t expect anyone will have to go to Mullingar with a begging bowl.
“People should go to Mullingar, take their corner and fight their corner, and take Athlone’s share back to Athlone,” he said, adding that people have been doing that for the last 20 years and will continue to do so.
“Begging bowl is not the terminology I’d use,” he said, but admitted that it will be more difficult in future for Athlone.
“It will get a lot harder to fight its corner, but it won’t suffer because of the people that we have here in Athlone from all parties. The strength of the personalities that we have in Athlone will bring back the bacon from Mullingar when we need it,” he said.
Asked whether it will be more difficult for Athlone to secure funding for objectives set out in the canal study, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke said it will be up to the elected councillors to keep fighting for what’s good for Athlone.
He said substantial work has been done on the canal study, the waterfront study, and other pieces of work.
“It’s going to be up to the new councillors, whoever they are, to fight hard for Athlone and it’s going to be a harder job now because we’re going to be seven against 13 in terms of the county make-up. So I hope the electorate return seven very strong councillors to stand up for them in the new forum,” he concluded.