A FIFTH of city councillors have already announced that they will step down at the local elections next May, with more exits expected in the coming weeks.
The exodus of councillors comes ahead of a landmark local election for Cork - the first under the new boundary extension which will bring Ballincollig, Glanmire, Blarney and Douglas into the city.
Former Lord Mayor Mary Shields, Fianna Fáil, was the latest to announce her exit from politics, choosing not to stand at the party’s selection convention.
Ms Shields and a number of others said that the time is right for them to retire, but the gap between council pay and workload and the increased competition due to the expanded boundaries may have influenced the decisions of others.
She is one of three former Lord Mayors stepping down, alongside her Cork South-West colleague in Fine Gael John Buttimer, and Cork South-Central Fianna Fáil councillor Tom O’Driscoll.
In Cork South East, Fine Gael’s Laura McGonigle and Sinn Féin’s Shane O’Shea are both standing down, while Solidarity’s Cork North-West ward councillor Marion O’Sullivan announced her retirement earlier this year.
A number of other sitting councillors are believed to be considering their positions, with announcements to come in the days and weeks ahead as parties hold their selection convention.
Even more sitting councillors may lose their seats as wards get even more competitive with county councillors moving into the city due to the boundary changes.
Fine Gael heavyweights Derry Canty and Deirdre Forde have been selected to run in the city’s Cork South-West and Cork South-East, respectively.
Independent Ger Keohane is to run in Cork North-East, Social Democrat Cllr Joe Harris is running in Cork South-East, with Fianna Fáil’s Mary Rose Desmond also expected to run in that ward.
Fianna Fáil’s Daithí Ó Donnabháin is expected to be added to the ticket in Cork South-West, while Sinn Féin county councillor Eoghan Jeffers is expected to be selected this week to run in Cork South-Central.
Ms Shields had been expected to run again but changed her mind in recent weeks.
She said that it was a tough decision but the time is right.
“I had a good run and I was elected four times, easily enough “I had 20 years - maybe it’s time to pass the torch.
“I feel a little sad, but at the same time I’m looking forward to what’s next in my life,” she said.
She said that she “won’t be sitting in the corner knitting” and is looking at taking up classes and new activities, as well as spending time with her family.
She said that being Lord Mayor in 2014/15 was the highlight of her career. It was a great honour and a great privilege.
“It was something way beyond what I ever imagined.
“The memories of that will remain with me my whole life,” she said.
Echoing comments on pay and work-life balance made by other departing councillors, Ms Shields said that she believes councillors should be valued more.
“It’s a full-time job.
“I was always a full-time councillor, and I always thought ‘how do other people do it?’
“I’d like to see councillors given more powers. I’d like to see them given more responsibility, and given more recognition,” she said.
Her Bishopstown based colleague Mr Buttimer said that he was choosing to step down to focus on his career.
He said that it was “humbling” to have his community’s support at the ballot box.”
To have the overwhelming support of the community was incredible. It’s time for new people to take on the mantle,” the Fine Gael councillor said.
Ms McGonigle was co-opted at the same time as him in 2007 and said that she will remain active in politics even though she will not be running herself.
“It’s been a great 12 years,” she said.
“I’m not leaving Fine Gael, I love our party and our Fine Gael family - I’m just returning to life as a private citizen!”