Mullingar is to have a mayor from June 1 this year but Athlone will not.
The council’s director of services Hugh O’Reilly confirmed this week that while Mullingar will be eligible to have a mayor after the Local Elections on May 23 on population grounds, Athlone will not meet the criteria.
Under the local government reforms due to come into effect on June 1, towns with a population of over 20,000 will be eligible to have a mayor; however, because a large percentage of Athlone’s population lives on the Roscommon side of the town, it will not qualify for a mayor.
“It appears Mullingar will be eligible to have a mayor but Athlone won’t. There is a threshold of 20,000 population, and Athlone doesn’t meet this because part of Athlone is in Roscommon. Athlone will have a cathaoirleach, and Mullingar will have the option of a mayor,” said Mr O’Reilly.
He was responding to a question at Monday’s county council meeting from Cllr Mark Cooney about whether the new electoral areas would have mayors or cathaoirleachs.
Under the reforms, Westmeath is to be split into three electoral areas - Athlone, Mullingar-Coole, and Mullingar-Kilbeggan. The latter two areas will combine to make up the Mullingar Municipal District.
Cllr Cooney said the idea of Athlone not having a mayor is “nonsense”.
“The reason given is that we won’t qualify on population grounds. This is nonsense - it should be changed to reflect the status of the town. The fact that a town has a mayor gives it a certain status and lets people know it is a town of considerable importance. We are one of the country’s larger towns, and a Gateway town,” he said.
Councillors also expressed frustration at how the new system will work in practice, particularly with the number of county councillors being reduced from 23 to 20.
Cllr Mick Dollard said this reduction “is not putting people first”, while Cllr Aidan Davitt was concerned that councillors would be less accessible.
“It is always a populist opinion to get rid of politicians, but there will be a change in how easily accessible politicians will be,” said Cllr Davitt.
Meanwhile Cllr Ken Glynn felt that having the 13 councillors from the Mullingar-Coole and Mullingar-Kilbeggan Areas doing their business at one Municipal District meeting would reduce the council’s efficiency.