The urban/rural and north/south divides in Westmeath need to be tackled when the local government reforms come into effect in June.
That’s the parting shot of one Westmeath councillor who is not running for election this year.
Cllr Joe Flanagan said speculation that either rural Westmeath, or the large towns at either end of the county, would lose out under the new regime amounted to “parochialism” and was not in the interests of the county as a whole.
“Regarding the possibility that there will be no rural councillor in north Westmeath - prior to the last General Election people wouldn’t have said there would be three TDs from rural areas. You can’t pre-empt how people will vote,” he said.
“This north versus south Westmeath attitude will have to change. You never hear of Drogheda versus Dundalk or Ballina versus Castlebar. We have to take the parochialism out of it and work for the county as a whole,” added Cllr Flanagan, to a number of “Hear hear”s from his fellow members.
Cllr Flanagan’s remarks took the sting out of concerns raised by several councillors about the possibility of their areas losing out after the May 23 Local Election, when the number of councillors will be reduced from 23 to 20 and the administrative areas rearranged.
Cllr Ken Glynn was concerned that the current nine Mullingar-based councillors could become two or three under the “cull” of councillors.
However Cllr Paul Daly is convinced that it will be rural areas that lose out. “Try getting anything done when there are one or two rural councillors in the Mullingar Municipal District,” he said.
“After May 23 there may not be a public representative from rural Westmeath at all. The balance of power has shifted, and the Kinnegads, Fineas, and Multyfarnhams are going to be left behind,” added Cllr Paddy Hill.
Meanwhile Cllr Mark Cooney, who is not running for election this year, sought assurances that money raised in the south of the county would be ringfenced for the area.
However Cllrs Colm Arthur and Denis Leonard also criticised the perceived “urban-rural divide”.
“Both sets of councillors need each other to survive. We need to work together for the benefit of the county and the areas we represent,” said Cllr Arthur.