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Fears that election reforms will hit Donegal independents

By Declan Magee

Reporter:

By Declan Magee

Fears that election reforms will hit Donegal independents

A shake-up which is on the cards for the next council elections has been described as an attempt to limit the representation of independents on the county council.
The review of the makeup of county councils around the country could see the number of electoral areas increased and the number of councillors in each electoral area fall.
The government has established two committees to review and make recommendations on local electoral areas.
Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform John Paul Phelan has asked the committees to make recommendations that ensure no electoral area has fewer than five councillors or more than seven.
In some circumstances recommendations will be allowed that have electoral areas of three or four seats if “otherwise the geographic size of the area would be disproportionately large”.
Donegal has five municipal districts each comprising of one electoral area.
There are 37 councillors spread over five municipal districts - Inishowen, Letterkenny Stranorlar, Donegal and Glenties.
Letterkenny is the biggest electoral area with ten councillors followed by Inishowen with nine.
Donegal, Glenties, Stranolar all have six each.
But the possible reduction of the number of councillors per electoral area is being seen by some councillors as an attempt to favour political parties over independents.
Larger electoral areas which elect nine or ten councillors are seen as giving independent councillors a better chance of being elected over rivals from the larger political parties than smaller electoral areas.
Ten of Donegal’s 37 councillors are independents, and six of those were elected for the first time at the 2014 local elections.
The ten-seat Letterkenny municipal district has four independent councillors while the six-seat Donegal municipal district has three.
Independent councillor and former mayor of Donegal John Campbell said he believes the motivation behind the review of the electoral areas is to give an advantage to political parties over independents by creating electoral areas with fewer members.
“Statistically in a bigger seat constituency you do have a slight advantage as an independent and independents are at a disadvantage in smaller constituencies,” he said.
“I definitely agree that that is the motivation behind it. But I don’t think it will deliver what the government hopes it will.
“I think they underestimate the strength of the connection that independent councillors have with their communities and I don't think they grasp what independent politics is.
“I don't think it will deliver the results they are hoping for because the independent brand is stronger and more ingrained in the communities than they think.”