Heavy workload leads to exodus of young voices

November 15th, 2021 11:40 AM

By Kieran O'Mahony

Katie Murphy (pictured) and the likes of Liam O’Connor, Aidan Lombard, Rachel McCarthy, Noel O’Donovan and James O’Donovan, are all young, able politicians who found the balancing act of being members of Cork County Council and their other roles too heavy a burden to bear.

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Since 2019 a total of six young members of Cork County Council have said goodbye to politics, all citing the pressures of the job

FINE Gael councillors Liam O’Connor and Katie Murphy are just the latest in what appears to be an ever-growing list of resignations by young members of Cork County Council, citing the heavy workload of the job.

Their resignations follow on from other recent resignations of young councillors, including Aidan Lombard earlier this year, as well as  Rachel McCarthy, James O’Donovan and Noel O’Donovan in recent years. An ever increasing workload and the 24/7 nature of the job have been cited as reasons for these resignations.

‘The local government system isn’t local enough and the ratio of councillors to citizens is exceptionally high, said Dr Aodh Quinlivan, director at the centre for local and regional governance at UCC.

‘Also the abolition of the town councils was a backward step and it now means councillors have much larger jurisdictions to cover and a big increase in workloads too,’ he added.

‘Entry into town councils was easier then and more young people and more women were elected onto town councils than any other level of government,’ he continued, suggesting they should be reinstated.

Dr Quinlivan said it is important to make local government more meaningful by increasing its powers.

‘Local government in Ireland is weak with limited responsibilities in areas like transport, tourism, policing and education. If young people feel that their local councils cannot make a major difference they are less likely to put themselves forward and if we want more young people involved we need to sell it and make it attractive. Remuneration and supports are vital to retain councillors.

‘At the moment many of our councillors are people who can afford to be councillors but it’s very difficult for those who may be part-time workers. It’s not all about the money either and it’s more about general support too, like getting administrative help, mentoring and education.’

Lama – the local authority members association – has recently announced a councillor assistance programme, where free and confidential psychotherapy sessions will be provided by former Olympic boxer, Cllr Kenneth Egan.

‘The Council should be representative of society as much as possible regarding gender, age, self-employed etc, and at the moment they don’t accurately reflect this,’ said Dr Quinlivan. ‘I also wouldn’t be surprised if more councillors will resign down the road and also the pool of people who can become councillors is quite narrow, too, and it depends on their employment situation.’

Former Fine Gael councillor Liam O’Connor, who was elected to the newly created Carrigaline Municipal District in 2019, said it was very tough balancing his work commitments as a scientist with Janssen and his Council obligations.

‘I’d have calls and emails every single day, as well as trying to juggle my work and attend the various Council meetings and I couldn’t give my Council work 100%. So I had to decide then as things were changing in work, too, and it wasn’t feasible,’ said Liam.

‘To give yourself fully to the role of a councillor, you’re not able to have a full-time job. They will have to look at creating full-time roles where one is paid accordingly. It’s a shame, too, because there are some great community people who could be great councillors but the role isn’t attractive enough,’ he added.

For now Liam will remain active in his local party cumann and he hasn’t ruled out a return to politics in the future. In the meantime, he says, he will continue his work as chair of Carrigaline Tidy Towns.

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