With the local elections less than a year away, it has been revealed that Athlone is to lose two council seats as a result of the Local Electoral Boundary Committee report just published.
The news is a blow to the town’s administration in light of the fact that Athlone has been selected as a growth centre under the National Planning Framework 2040 plan.
The report recommends the addition of Moate as a new electoral area with reference to Westmeath’s population growth noted in the 2016 census.
The boundary realignment means five councillors will represent Athlone, while four councillors will represent the new Moate electoral area.
As part of the boundary realignment, Moate, Mount Temple, Tang, Drumraney and Ballymore - all presently in the Athlone area, will move to the Moate area.
Administratively, the report further recommends that the Athlone and Moate electoral areas work together as the Athlone-Moate municipal district.
Cllr. Michael O’Brien and Cllr. Tom Farrell, who intend to run in the local elections next May, have been impacted by the boundary changes. It now appears that both councillors will be seeking re-election in the Moate electoral area and will be campaign in pastures unfamiliar ahead of the voting process.
Speaking this week, Cllr. O’Brien said, ‘I was shocked to hear the news of the local electoral area boundary review. It is a huge blow to me to see my hometown of Moate taken out of the Athlone electoral area.
Moate has always worked well within the Athlone electoral area, there was no need for any changes. This new Moate area stretches as far as the Mullingar border and places like Rathowen and Emper in North Westmeath, it makes no sense. There is absolutely no logic to these changes.
It is a total gerrymandering of electoral areas that suits the bigger parties. It cuts my vote in half and leaves me with a huge uphill battle to retain my seat.
Moate will really struggle to retain a Councillor as a result of this. I will meet with my campaign team and supporters in the coming days and we will consider the options and move forward. I have worked hard since my election in 2014, right across the Athlone Municipal District, and I will continue to do so.’
Echoing similar sentiments, Cllr. Tom Farrell added that he would be assessing the boundary changes in full, but noted that he did intend to contest the local elections ‘as I have a mandate from the people.’
Noting that a similar electoral boundary change affected his father Ned during his time as an elected representative, Cllr. Farrell noted that the realignment will also impact on the CLAR areas - those localities which have experienced a greater than fifty percent population decrease from 1926 to 1996 - for which he has continuously campaigned since his election.