There are many great milestones in childhood: learning to walk, or ride a bike; going to the big school, or sitting exams. One of my favorites is when a group of children are arguing about a decision and one bright spark suggests: “We should all vote!” Making decisions by consensus is profoundly human. It’s just a small jump from that group of children deciding on what game to play, to a community voting on who should represent them in important matters. Democracy is not a new idea. It’s been around in one form or the other, some more fair than others, since before the Greeks and Romans. That’s why I was so distraught when Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan announced the abolition of 80 Town Councils this time last year. As Clonakilty welcomed President Michael D. Higgins for the 400th anniversary of the town’s charter, there was already talk of what to do about the loss of the town’s council and Mayor. I attended a public meeting on the subject where many interesting ideas were put forward, from drawing new boundaries to include the hinterland, to incorporating towns like they do in the US, or even deciding to continue to have a Town Mayor (directly elected by the population). The room was packed to the rafters and the discussion was heated. All agreed that something should be done…and I’d heard very little since.
I’m glad to say that some people have been hard at work at it. Two organisations in particular, Cumann Seanchais Chloch na gCoillte (Clonakilty Historical Society) and Duchas Chloch na gCoillte (Clonakilty Heritage) got to work on researching, and putting together proposals. A major concern was the loss of the town Mayor. The position of Mayor of Clonakilty has been held by a total of 421 people since 1605. It was felt that the loss of its Mayor would leave the town without any dedicated and readily identifiable leadership, something, which has been highly valued down through the years. At its AGM on February 6, 2014, Duchas Clonakilty Heritage approved the setting up of a sub-group to examine the possibility and feasibility of directly electing a Mayor in 2014. (NB The Duchas Mayoral Advisory Group is open to any interested persons.) After much work and discussions, the Group concluded that the election of five people, to form a Mayoral Council, for a period of five years would be the most suitable and workable option. This Mayoral Council would then provide a Mayor and Deputy Mayor for each of the five years, as well as acting as a Council, dedicated to the Town’s interests. The period of five years was chosen to coincide with the holding of Local and European Elections. This is history in the making. Clonakilty is the first town to respond to the abolition of its town council by setting up a directly elected Mayoral Council.
The Office of Mayor / Deputy Mayor are to be held as honorary positions. They will represent the town at official meetings, sporting events, cultural and community functions, as well as being a focus point in times of crisis. An individual may nominate himself/herself as a candidate, or be nominated by someone else who is registered as an elector within the Mayoral Electoral Area. One very interesting change is the stipulation that the role of the Mayor will be a-political. Political Party nominations will not be accepted. Only the candidate’s full name and address will appear on the ballot paper with no reference made to any political party membership or association.
Another change is the new Mayoral Electoral Area, which will now include electors in the Clonakilty Rural Area, as they have strong associations with the town, either through employment, cultural, social or sporting involvements. It will also add another 947 people who are eligible to vote. Business ratepayers will also be eligible to vote for the first time.
A special qualification to vote will be granted to town business ratepayers, who are resident outside the mayoral electoral area. If a business is registered in joint names then those named parties will be entitled to vote. Otherwise it will be just the registered owner.
The suggested date to hold the poll is the day after the Local/European Polls – Saturday, May 24, 2014 in Scoil na mBuachaillí from 9am-7pm. The historic vote will be counted in O’Donovan’s Hotel on Sunday morning, and Clonakilty’s new Mayor ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ (to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln) will be announced.
For more information about the Mayoral Election please visit www.duchasclonakiltyheritage.com.