LATE last week, there was surprise and then anger in Ballinruan as it emerged that there were no plans to use the local community centre as a polling station in the General Election.
The community centre is where Ballinruan people have voted for decades and some works have been carried out on it even since last year’s local elections, with a view to keeping the facility up-to-date and as user-friendly as possible.
Frustration was even more acute, as there was no notice given of the decision to close.
“It’s very disappointing for people in Ballinruan, who always voted there and something else they have removed from a rural community without even telling us,” was part of the content of one post put on the Ballinruan Development Association Facebook page.
However, local people were not about to take the decision lying down and quickly began to mobilise to ensure that the centre, which would have been used by generations of local families in some instances, would be open on February 8.
Many local people said that they would not be voting as their protest against the decision, with some of them absolutely adamant that they wouldn’t vote elsewhere.
There were also plans to hold a community event in the hall on February 8, which would serve as a protest against the decision and a show of community solidarity.
However, after making their views known, the Ballinruan residents quickly got a result, when it was revealed on Tuesday that there had been a rethink and they will be able to cast their votes at the usual place.
Speaking to The Clare Champion following the decision to allow voting to take place in Ballinruan, Councillor Pat Hayes said, “I was very disappointed when I got the news that it wasn’t opening. We have enough challenges for rural communities like Ballinruan. They have a good development association and a lovely hall there and to be told it wasn’t going to happen was very disappointing for them. Common sense has prevailed now and I was glad to be of assistance and help in trying to make sure the right information was in place. I think it might have been believed it wasn’t accessible. It was listed as being inaccessible for people with disabilities in the past but that issue has been resolved and there has been a reversal of the decision by the Registrar.”
He said the local reaction shows the importance of consulting people affected by decisions. “Taking decisions without consulting with the community is risky and I think it’s a lesson learned for a lot of people here.”
He said he had made a number of representations on the matter before the reversal.
Councillor Joe Cooney also said he had made representations and said that not opening the centre would have been a terrible decision.
“First of all, I think it was outrageous to come up with the idea of closing the polling station without consultation with the people from the area. I think it would have been another attack on rural parts of the county. They have a very good community up there, it’s a small rural village and it’s important to keep facilities like polling stations, post offices and small shops open, if at all possible. Closing these in the present day, when things are improving in the country, is a disgrace.
“We were given different reasons why it was to close but it’s immaterial now and I’m delighted that the people of Ballinruan and the catchment area will be able to vote in their own community centre, as they are entitled to do.”
According to tallies from the last general election, an estimated 204 people voted in Ballinruan.
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.