John Gormley’s announcement that he is looking to establish spending limits for the local elections should be something to be widely welcomed. However from what he has said so far there are a few problems with the approach he is suggesting should be followed. He mentions one area of consideration “Should different amounts apply in elections for city and county councils, and town councils;”. On the surface that seems a sensible distinction to make but that’s not quite the case when you look at how it would play out on the ground.
The thing is that different counties have different ratios between councillors and voters. I’m using 2004 numbers for electorates but the comparison holds up. In Dublin city council for example the Artane Ward had an electorate of 26, 000 compared to Limerick Ward 2 which was only 9,000, both for 4 seats, both city councils. Or more extreme Ballinamore Co. Leitrim a 6 seater for just 6,000 voters as compared to Midleton a 6 seater in Co.Cork but for 40,000 people. Being a city, county or town council should not be the point of divergence in spending limits. In truth it must be linked to the number of people each candidate is seeking to represent. And in doing that it is likely that we will see a reopening of the can of worms that are issues of pay in proportion to the number of people being represented and perhaps too the fact that members of the Seanad are elected by councillors who represent varying numbers of people.
Couple this divergence in size with the absence of any reference to date to the use of publicly funded facilities by incumbents (photocopying in city hall can save a candidate quite a pretty penny in paper and printing costs in the lead up to an election campaign, especially when you know for certain the date of the contest) and you’ve got a recipe for a tidy little legal mess come next year. That isn’t to say the topic shouldn’t be gone into, just that it is about more than set caps on spending.