18 Cork mayors oppose council merger

Cork City Hall (left) and County Hall (right)

Eighteen former lords mayor of Cork have expressed “profound concerns” about the possible abolition of the city council as part of a major overhaul of the region’s local government structures.

The former mayors have united amid growing fears that a Government-appointed review group looks set within weeks to recommend the merger of the city and county councils to create one super council to govern the entire county.

Such a proposal is “simply preposterous” and “unworkable” and would seriously damage the interests of Cork city, the region and the nation, they said.

The hard-hitting statement — signed by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, current councillors PJ Hourican, Tom O’Driscoll, Terry Shannon, John Buttimer, and Mary Shields, Jim Corr, one of Ireland’s longest-serving city councillors until his retirement last year, and Paud Black, John Dennehy, Dan Wallace, Denis Cregan, Joe O’Callaghan, Damian Wallace, John Kelleher, Michael Ahern, Donal Counihan, Michael O’Connell, and Catherine Clancy — cites the creation of corporate entities such as Irish Water and the HSE, and refers to the abolition of town councils, and said Cork could be the next target for this type of “dangerous experimentation”.

They also criticise Cork County Council for resisting a city boundary expansion over the last half century, and Cork Chamber for advocating for a single authority.

Their intervention comes just weeks before the Cork Local Government Review Group is due to issue its recommendations to Environment Minister Alan Kelly.

Chaired by business consultant Alf Smiddy, the group was tasked last January with examining the case for the first extension of Cork’s city boundary since 1965, or the possible merger of the city and county councils.

The former mayors said they are increasingly concerned that a merger is on the cards.

The idea that Cork City should be divested of its essential powers to self-govern, to run its own affairs, to set its own budget, and to strategise for the future is an “extraordinary proposition”, they said.

This would relegate the city to ‘divisional status’ within a single county authority — a type of municipal district with the same standing as a country town, they warned. “This is beyond belief and is now a distinct possibility. A city without power is not a city,” said the signatories.

“Cork City is not an abstract entity. It is a living, breathing, evolving organism that has an urban identity and an urban personality; it has shape and a soul. That is what makes cities special. It also has a critical national strategic role. Those who know and respect Cork City have no reason to be modest about its contribution, but now have every reason to be fearful for its future.”

They pointed to the city’s history of self-governance since medieval times, and its pioneering approach to long-term strategic planning through visionary documents like the Land Use and Transportation Study.

They said the future governance of Cork is a national issue, given the city’s status in national spatial planning policy and its importance as a counter- balance to Dublin.

They launched a strong attack on the county council for “steadfastly resisting” the city’s expansion, saying: “It has used every stratagem to obstruct the development of the city to a scale commensurate with its position as Ireland’s second city.

“Having now seen that its previous position on a boundary extension is likely to be defeated by the logic that has always existed, the county council now offers a governance proposal which will, if implemented, have a hugely detrimental effect on the city.”

They said Cork Chamber, without a democratic mandate, has demanded that business be involved in decision-making in areas in which it has no remit.

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