Alf Smiddy seeks meetings with both sides to quell Cork council merger controversy

Alf Smiddy with Alan Kelly

The chair of the group which has recommended a controversial merger of Cork city and county councils wants to hold high-level briefings with those on both sides of the debate amid mounting criticism.

Alf Smiddy said he plans to invite the city and county mayors, the chiefs executive of both councils, and business groups, to attend cross-table talks over the coming weeks.

He said he hoped the meetings would create “open and honest dialogue” and ensure that the relevant people fully understand the local government arrangements across the Cork region, and not just from a very narrow city or county perspective.

“With this report now published, we are at a crossroads in terms of local government in Cork, and I would urge all our citizens and their representatives to seriously embrace the report and the 15 recommendations, including the implementation process announced last week,” he said.

Alf Smiddy seeks meetings with both sides to quell Cork council merger controversy

Cork City Hall

“It is clear that the only other option is the continuum of the status quo. This is indeed a once in a lifetime opportunity for Cork and its citizens, and at the very heart of our report is a new council with three divisions, including a strong city at its core that will be the powerhouse and driver of economic and social development for the entire Cork region.”

He made his comments as Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described the Cork Local Government Review (CLGR) group’s merger proposal as “unworkable”.

He also accused some of the group of adopting a “bullish” approach and of ignoring critical voices.

Alf Smiddy seeks meetings with both sides to quell Cork council merger controversy

Cork County Hall

“I find it extraordinary that the panel did not take on board the advice of academics in University College Cork (UCC) who stated that the recommendations are not feasible,” Mr Martin said.

“A bullish approach, whereby critical voices were ignored rather than engaged with, appears to have been adopted by some members of the panel. This blinkered attitude has resulted in a seriously flawed document, which has the potential to jeopardise the status of Cork city and the future development of the region.”

The CLGR recommendations, which were presented to Environment Minister Alan Kelly last Tuesday, have sparked debate and controversy.

Alf Smiddy seeks meetings with both sides to quell Cork council merger controversy

Alan Kelly

The CLGR group was split three to two in favour of a merger, with UCC academics Dr Theresa Reidy and Prof Dermot Keogh producing a minority report opposing the merger.

Cork Chamber and businessman Leslie Buckley are among those to have welcomed the merger. However, local government expert Aodh Quinlivan, of UCC’s School of Government, and three planning experts at UCC’s Centre for Planning and Sustainable Development, are among those leading criticism of the proposal.

Alf Smiddy seeks meetings with both sides to quell Cork council merger controversy

Aodh Quinlivan

Mr Martin backed the academics and said the merger is an “unnecessary reworking of the existing councils” and could seriously jeopardise investment in the entire south-west region.

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