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Move To Unite Divided Tipperary Constituency

Thursday, 12 January 2017

IN 2014, when a great swathe of North Tipperary was carved up and transferred into the Offaly constituency for the General Election, many local politicians prophesied it would never work and that the anticipated initial teething problems would be so great, they would be beyond ironing out and someday require reversing to put right.

In 2013, the then Mayor of what was North Tipperary County Council, Ger Darcy, fearing it was already too late, called on Councillors to support him in a campaign to stop the changes to the electoral boundaries which the government had already agreed on.

A farmer from Ardcroney, one of the areas which is now classified as part of Offaly, he foresaw trouble coming down the line.

'People feel they are being disenfranchised by the new changes, because all these people are very aligned with North Tipperary. It's simply unfair that the entire Lower Ormond area be put into Offaly at the time of the amalgamation in 2014,' the then Mayor said at a Council meeting in October 2013.

Now, almost 40 months later, the dust has settled after the changes, but many people remain deeply unhappy and are determined to reverse what they see as a disastrous move for the area.

Leading the charge is Labour Spokesperson on Health and former Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, who this week handed in a submission to the Constituency Commission in which he called for a unified Dail constituency of Tipperary - including the 10,000 residents of Tipperary who are currently part of the Offaly constituency.

He backed up his submission with the signatures of more than 1,400 people who have signed a petition calling for the Lower Ormond area of Tipperary to be moved back from Offaly to the Tipperary constituency.

Deputy Kelly said it was a ludicrous situation to have part of Tipperary in the Offaly constituency when there was no rational or legal need for it.

'In recent years we have seen the two county councils merged into one and the two VECs merged into one ETB yet the last constituency review saw fit to move part of North Tipperary into Offaly. This goes against all recent planning with regard to Tipperary and leaves 10,000 residents cut off from the county and devoid of any representation in Dail Eireann,' he said.

'With all due respect to the TDs in the Offaly constituency, they are from Offaly and represent the interests of the people of Offaly, not Tipperary. The residents of Lower Ormond deserve to be able to vote in Tipperary along with the rest of the county. It is not acceptable that they are part of the Nenagh electoral area in elections to the County Council but are put into another county for general elections,' he said.

'In my submission to the Constituency Commission I have made a strong rational, moral and legal case for a unified Tipperary constituency. While the Commission must have regard to population in determining constituencies, I have pointed out previous examples such as Louth where they have maintained the integrity of the county boundary even with a greater population variance,' Deputy Kelly explained.

Deputy Kelly said he feels a unified Tipperary Constituency comprising the entire population of the County would respect the county boundary, while being within a population per TD variation previously allowed by the Commission.

'It is the clear wish of the people of Tipperary to be represented in Dail Eireann as one unified constituency and there is nothing in law that prevents the Commission from making such a recommendation,' he argues.

Responding to Deputy Kelly's submission, Councillor Michael Smith, a member of the Municipal Council for Roscrea, Thurles and Templemore and a candidate in last year's General Election, said he feels people are being 'used as pawns' in a political battle.

Cllr Smith recalled the general election held in 2011, when a sizeable population in South Offaly was transferred into the North Tipperary constituency.

'For the following election this decision was reversed and an electorate of 11,000 people in Upper and Lower Ormond was hurled into a new three seater in Offaly. In both cases the people had no say and were just pawns in a mathematical exercise to produce constituencies which considered neither county boundaries, history, tradition or natural hinterlands,' Cllr Smith said.

'Now is the time for the people to vent their anger and displeasure before it's too late,' he said, supporting Deputy Kelly's submission, but tinging it with criticism for not acting sooner.

'I welcome the initiative taken by Deputy Alan Kelly in obtaining signatures, even if it is only in atonement for being in slumberland when the decision to siphon off people in North Tipperary to Offaly the first day,' he said.

'Tipperary, the oldest of counties, goes back to the middle ages and its people have consistently displayed a strong sense of engagement in the political and electoral process. There is therefore a natural and genuine feeling of disenfranchisement in having to vote in a constituency where there is no stake in the day to day life of that area,' he said.

'It is the largest inland county and has an extensive network of towns which help to ensure a strong economic, social and community linkage throughout the county. Nenagh Town is central to Upper and Lower Ormond and the Boundary Commission broke its own rules in breaking up this organic hinterland and cutting it in half,' Cllr Smith argues.

'People living on the edge of the town and further afield were just perplexed and disillusioned at such wanton disregard for their genuine concerns. It only took a stroke of a pen for Nenagh to lose its urban council and people were given no say,' he said.

'Is it not high time that we see a little more consistency in these policy approaches?' Cllr Smith asked.

The Roscrea based Councillor said he will be submitting his own appeal to the Boundary Commission to redress this situation and to give back to the people of Upper and Lower Ormond what he describes as their 'natural and fundamental rights.'

'Nothing less will do,' he said.

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