THE boundary line between Clare and Limerick has been the subject of endless debate and controversy over several generations.
The Clare Champion has carried many a headline, which included phrases such as “not an inch” or “never, ever”. Clare councillors have, over the years, valiantly resisted pressure from Limerick City Council and various government ministers to cede control over a strip of land inside the Banner County boundary.
The amount of land and the housing estates and villages it would affect, has varied.
At the moment, all of County Clare remains under the administration of Clare County Council. However, parts of South-East Clare have been included in the Limerick East constituency for national elections. We’ve had situations where South East Clare residents stood as general election candidates in Clare but were unable to vote for themselves while sitting TDs and challengers have complained of losing a vital pocket of support.
Many people railed against the electoral boundary change but to no avail. With this arrangement now firmly established, it was inevitable that the issue of Limerick City encroaching into Clare would be revisited.
The Limerick Local Government Committee, under the chairmanship of business man Denis Brosnan, was set up by Environment Minister John Gormley to review local government structures in the Mid-West and make appropriate recommendations.
With a different wish list from each of the authorities involved – Limerick City Council, Limerick County Council and Clare County Council – it was inevitable that there would be disappointments when the committee’s recommendations finally emerged last week.
The key point from a Clare perspective is the proposal that approximately five square kilometres of Clare land – Westbury, Shannon Banks and parts of the UL campus – where there is a population of around 3,000 people, would become part of an expanded Limerick City. Other suburban areas in Limerick are also earmarked to become part of an expanded city of 100,000 people.
Furthermore, the area of South East Clare to be lost to Clare County Council administration would be taken in charge by a new unified Limerick local authority to represent, manage and administer the city and County Limerick. The new authority would service a population of approximately 187,000 people.
According to the committee, an estimated €20 million per annum would be saved through merging staffing and administrative structures and the elimination of duplication.
Clare county councillors are once again making strong overtures to stall the process. There’s still plenty of time on the clock for the political football game to decide the issue. The indications are, at this stage however, that despite all the calls from Clare politicians, the Government will act in accordance with the recommendations.
While councillors, community leaders and ordinary residents in South-East Clare have espoused their loyalty to the Banner County in the latest round of the boundary debate, the reality is that a large number of people in the area have a greater affinity to Limerick City than to County Clare. For schools, shopping, socialising and sporting activities they turn to Limerick.
For the very reason that residents of South East Clare have different perspectives on a sense of belonging, before the proposals pass through the Dáil and are signed into law, in the interest of democracy, there should be a plebiscite in the South-East Clare areas to decide once and for all who locals want to take care of their affairs.
This idea has been raised over the past week but now it seems that there’s disagreement among Clare local representatives as to who should qualify to vote.
Some want to confine it to those living in the five square kilometres but others are suggesting it should be broadened to adjoining areas, as in a few instances the new line would actually divide housing estates.
Clare councillors must get their act together on this issue so they can accurately gauge public opinion and formulate a considered response to the Limerick Local Government Committee’s proposals.
More Ryanair cuts at Shannon
What Michael O’Leary says, Michael O’Leary does. Once again the Ryanair boss has delivered on his threat to cut services at Shannon Airport because of Shannon Airport Authority’s failure to accede to his demands.
Shannon is to lose one route, Shannon-Paris, and there will be a reduction in the frequency of flights on the Shannon-Gatwick and Shannon-Stansted routes (a loss of seven rotations), as part of its winter schedule covering six routes, he confirmed on Wednesday evening.
Michael O’Leary neglected to mention, however, that Edinburgh, Malaga, Nantes and Palma Mallorca, which featured on the summer destinations from Shannon, have also gone. The latest setback is compounded by the fact that transatlantic airlines at Shannon are also to reduce services this winter.
In typical Michael O’Leary fashion, he has delivered an unequivocal ‘no’ to the proposal to increase passenger charges at the airport from €1.58 to €6.32 from November 1.
Shannon Airport Authority maintains that the 33% increase only brings Shannon into line with other airports.
Michael O’Leary sees things quite differently.
“It is clear that the Irish Government and the DAA monopoly are determined to destroy Irish air traffic, Irish tourism and Irish jobs.
“In the two years since the Government introduced a €10 tourist tax and ordered over 50% increases in DAA airport fees, traffic at the three main Irish airports (Dublin, Cork and Shannon) has plunged by 33% from over 30 million to just 20 million passengers.
Ireland has lost 10 million air passengers, over 10,000 jobs in airport and related services and over €1 billion of lost tourism and visitor spend annually,” he said.
Members of both the Mid-West Regional Authority and a special policy committee of Clare County Council were highly critical this week of what they considered to be a lack of a marketing plan for Shannon.
They were also critical of the parent body, Dublin Airport Authority for pursuing a policy of supporting Dublin Airport initiatives to the detriment of Shannon. There have been calls from many quarters for the withdrawal of the controversial €10 travel tax, seen as a serious impediment to growing traffic, especially in the low-cost sector.
Shannon Airport Authority chairman Brian O’Connell has been asked to attend a meeting of Clare County Council to clarify the organisation’s role in the administration of Shannon.
There are real concerns that the continued leakage of Ryanair flights from Shannon can only lead to the inevitable conclusion of no flights at all. The unthinkable cannot be allowed to happen so the channels of dialogue between Ryanair, Dublin Airport Authority and Shannon Airport must be kept open in the hope of agreeing to a compromise.