ENVIRONMENT MINISTER PHIL Hogan has been accused of a “good old-fashioned gerrymander” with the boundaries for the local elections this May as the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis got under way in Killarney this evening.
Micheál Martin has opened the party’s annual gathering at the INEC with an attack on Hogan for the manner in which he believes the local election boundaries have been drawn-up to benefit Fine Gael and Labour.
Responding this evening, Hogan said in a statement that Martin’s comments were a cheap political stunt and said the Fianna Fàil leader should apologise to the members of the Boundary Commission.
Thousands of delegates will descend on the 75th Ard Fheis this weekend with over 200 motions on a wide range of policy to be debated by the party before a keynote speech from the leader tomorrow night.
Speaking to reporters, Martin said that the terms of reference for the independent Boundary Commission, which established the new boundaries, were “probably designed to give extra seats where it mattered for Labour and Fine Gael and to preserve their seats where possible”.
‘Shall and superficial’
The party leader also said: “We would argue that the manner in which the boundaries of the local councils were changed in preparation for this local election probably represents the biggest gerrymander in the last 35 years, since independent boundary commissions were established.”
Martin also said that the “alleged reform of local government “is anything but” and described the changes, which include a reduction in the number of councillors from over 1,600 to less than 1,000, as “shallow and superficial”.
In his speech to delegates tonight, Martin said: “The only thing Phil Hogan has been micromanaging in the Department of the Environment is his attempt to maximise Fine Gael and Labour seats in May.”
But Hogan said: “This is a cheap political stunt from the leader of the party that invented and then went on to major in gerrymandering. Deputy Martin is obviously desperate to try and get some attention for his party in advance of the local elections.”
Lack of women
The former government minister acknowledged that his party has a problem with female representation, saying it is “simply unacceptable”.
He pledged to establish a commission – The Markievicz Commission – to oversee the targets laid down in an action plan to increase the representation of women at all levels of the party.
Martin also said this evening that the party is looking to improve on its position in Dublin – where it has no TDs. He said that the party is “quietly confident” about the prospects of some of those candidates and said that some will “have prospects in terms of the next general election”.
Introducing Martin earlier, TD Timmy Dooley said that it has been “a good year to be a member of Fianna Fàil”, remarking that the party is “ready for the fight ahead”. He said that the government’s promised democratic revolution “is in flames”.
He also criticised Sinn Féin and its president Gerry Adams for the discrepancy between the party’s policies in the North and the south and Adams’s decision to under go medical treatment in the United States, dismissing the idea that the Louth TD is “a man of the ordinary people”.
- Follow @oconnellhugh for updates from the INEC this weekend.