A former lord mayor of Cork has launched a scathing attack on some outspoken opponents of the city boundary extension, accusing them of damaging the region’s reputation and likening some to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
Former Fine Gael city councillor Joe O’Callaghan, who lives in Blarney, one of the areas earmarked by the Mackinnon Report for transfer from the county to the city, spoke out last night ahead of a crucial meeting today of the group set up to implement the extended boundary proposals.
The Mackinnon Report has recommended a significant expansion of the city’s boundary — its first since 1965 — to include Douglas, Donnybrook, Grange, Frankfield, Cork Airport, Ballincollig, Blarney, Tower, Rathpeacon, Glanmire, Little Island, and Carrigtwohill.
The proposed extension would boost the city’s population by some 100,000 to 225,000.
The county council has opposed the scale of the extension, with vocal opposition being expressed on the ground in affected rates-rich areas including Ballincollig, Little Island, and Carrigtwohill.
Mr O’Callaghan, who served as lord mayor in 1998, said the debate on the city boundary issue has, in recent days, become divisive and damaging.
“It has descended into a series of unedifying and divisive diatribes, which is doing untold damage to Cork as an attractive cohesive area to invest in,” he said.
“Unfactual and silly statements are being made by people who should know better and the debate is becoming farcical — something akin to the North and South Korea standoff with some individuals nearly qualifying for the position of Kim Jong-un.”
Mr O’Callaghan criticised his own party in Government for delaying on arriving at a resolution on the issue, and for “pandering” to certain individuals.
He urged the Government and Local Government Minister Eoghan Murphy to make a decision on the boundary issue quickly.
Teams of senior officials from both Cork county and city councils, who have been asked to work with the implementation group to agree the new boundary, are due to present their first draft of their proposed boundary lines to the implementation group, which is due to meet today.
City councillors were briefed yesterday on the city’s presentation.
A source said the city’s draft boundary line “adheres 95% to the Mackinnon line”.
“In some places, it varies by a few hundred metres either side of the Mackinnon line, to respect natural or geographical boundaries and to ensure the cohesion of existing communities,” said the source.
County councillors also met yesterday to discuss their engagement with the implementation group.
Having had their initial offer to cede certain lands on the city fringes rejected by city councillors last month because it was too small, it is understood they may be prepared to increase the area of land they are willing to cede. That will become clearer after today’s meeting.
John O’Connor, chairman of the implementation group and a former chairman of An Bord Pleanála, has already told both sides that the extended city boundary line must be in accordance with the Mackinnon proposals, subject to minor adjustments to reflect existing “physical, social, and natural borders”, and that it is not within the group’s terms of reference to draft other proposals.
The group is due to present a detailed implementation plan to the minister by the end of this month.
It’s famous the world over as home to one of Ireland’s greatest visitor attractions, with an average of 400,000 people flocking annually to its historic castle.
But while legend suggests that kissing the Blarney Stone bestows the gift of the gab, there isn’t much talk in the scenic county village of Blarney, a 10km drive from the heart of Cork City, about its possible transfer to the city under the Mackinnon proposals. What talk there is is largely positive towards such a move.
Damian Boylan, chairman of Blarney Chamber of Commerce and a 2014 Fine Gael local election candidate, said people must accept that Cork City needs to grow if it is to compete nationally and internationally. “This is not about a land grab — it’s about population growth,” he said.
An Bord Pleanála approval is in place for a new town for up to 13,000 people on some 966 acres of greenfield agricultural land at Monard, about 4km north-east of Blarney village.
Mr Boylan said the
proposed boundary extension is about growing the city to be a player on the national stage. “We can call ourselves a city all we want, but Cork City needs to grow — its population has to grow to place it on a national stage to be able to attract the investment that it needs to compete,” he said.
“And the fact is that the bulk of the population in Blarney is from Cork City, and most of the workforce here work in the city.
“My strong view on
this is that at the moment, Blarney is neither city nor county. We have to fight for resources against much larger towns and populations in Macroom, Skibbereen, Bandon, and Mallow. Being part of the city could bring benefits.”
Charles Colthurst, who owns Blarney Castle, has no specific objection to Blarney becoming part of the city, but said whatever happens, its tourism focus must be maintained.
“My main concern would be the need to ensure that tourism and heritage, and its importance to Blarney, continues to be recognised and supported,” he said.
“We don’t want it to be thrown out the window by whatever boundary changes may arise.
“There must be continued recognition that tourism is of vital importance to Blarney. That’s what Blarney is about and that’s what we are constantly trying to promote.”
Like many others, Ian Forrest, who runs Blarney Castle Hotel, hasn’t been following the intricacies of the boundary debate too closely.
“But from what I hear, I think it would be a good thing for the city. It would make the city more powerful on a national stage, and that could be good for Blarney,” he said.
Kate Durrant, who publishes The Muskerry News local newspaper and is involved in several community groups in Blarney, tried to gauge public opinion on the boundary issue through a Facebook post last week and was surprised by the lack of engagement.
“There was no debate really. Three likes and two comments,” she said.
“I would hate to see the village spirit vanish, or be subsumed by becoming part of the city, by becoming suburban. Having said that, if it results in Blarney getting more funding and access to better services than we are currently getting, then it would be a good thing.”
On the fringes of the Blarney Castle estate, Richard Blair manages Blair’s Inn with his brother, Duncan. He said they don’t know if the city boundary extension will affect their business, run for decades by his father, John, a former city councillor and alderman.
“We would like to know if it will affect us, and if it does, if rates will go up,” he said. “They pay higher rates in the city as it is, but you could argue that they get a better service. You are more likely to get your roads and footpaths in the city salted and gritted during cold weather, and you will certainly get a burst pipe fixed faster in the city that out here.
“Whatever decision is made, our business will still be in the same place, with the same address. In fact, being part of the city might encourage more people from the city to visit.
“Whatever happens, I would hope that they would open up decent lines of
communication with those affected. We want to be able to work with the local
authorities. And they should let us know sooner rather than later.”
Blarney resident Joe O’Callaghan, a former lord mayor of Cork, criticised the county council’s treatment of Blarney. “Despite Blarney’s international brand name, no real efforts have been made by government or the county council to attract industry to the area, despite the presence of a business park two miles outside the village.
“Yes, tourism is thriving but the growing population needs jobs to continue living in the area.”
Mr O’Callaghan said the council sanctioned the demolition of the former Blarney Park Hotel but has left the site an “embarrassing eyesore” in the shadow of one of the country’s major tourist attractions for the last eight years. “Could the city council do any worse if Blarney is included into Cork City?” he said.
Joe Organ, president of Glanmire Chamber, said its executive recently met to discuss the implications if the Mackinnon report proposals were adopted.
“We think it will probably lead to an increase in commercial rates,” he said.
“Cork County Council also operates a 5% discount for businesses which pay their rates on time and if the city council takes over that will probably be lost.”
Mr Organ, who is an auctioneer, said the chamber’s 50 members range from large to medium and small businesses and obviously commercial rates were
important to them.
However, he said another concern centred around the €8.1m flood defence plans for the area.
Since major flooding hit more than 70 houses and businesses in Glanmire in 2012, the county council and the Office of Public Works (OPW) have been drawing up plans for flood defences.
He said his members were very concerned that, if the city council took over the area, there may be a delay in starting flood defence works.
“We would want an absolute guarantee that won’t happen,” said Mr Organ.
He added that his members were “very happy” with the way the county council provides
services in the area.
“I and my colleagues don’t see a need for change,” he added.
Sean O’Sullivan, chairman of the Glanmire Business Alliance, said he was also totally opposed to a city council takeover.
He said the area had grown significantly in recent years and now had a population of around 23,000.
The greater Glanmire area encompasses the communities of Upper Glanmire, White’s Cross, Sarsfield’s Court, Ballyphilip, Ballinaparson, Coolgreen, Templemichael and Buck Leary’s Cross.
Mr O’Sullivan said Glanmire can now be designated a satellite town rather than a village and he was in total agreement with Alf Smiddy’s stance on the matter.
Mr Smiddy was appointed by then environment minister Alan Kelly in early 2015 to review the case for a boundary extension or a council merger. The Smiddy Report, which recommended a merger model, was subsequently shelved.
“The Glanmire Community Association must be totally supported in their fight to retain county status,” said Mr O’Sullivan, who added that he would be running as an Independent candidate in the 2019 local elections. “It is time for Glanmire people and its businesses to stand together and oppose this merger.”
Former Senator John Gilroy, who represented the Glanmire area as a county councillor for a number of years, said “it was an absolute disgrace [by the Government] to ignore the Smiddy Report”.
He said he was not in favour of a such a major expansion of the city council’s territory.
“I have maintained for quite some time that there should be one single local authority governing all of Cork. We need to see critical mass in this region to compete with all the investment which is going into Dublin and Belfast,” Mr Gilroy said.
He said having two local authorities meant fragmentation and this would not help Cork in its quest to become as influential as the other two cities.
Cllr Ger Keohane, a member of the county council, said he didn’t believe the city council could provide the same service to the people of Glanmire as his local authority.
He pointed out that the county council’s Cobh/Glanmire municipal district sets aside €208,000 every year to fund projects in its area which are specifically designed to aid local clubs, tidy towns organisations and community associations.
He pointed to a significant amount of work the county council had aided in the area, including John O’Callaghan Park, which has a children’s playground and lovely riverside walks.
“I see zero benefit for householders and businesses in the city council taking over the greater Glanmire area,” Mr Keohane added.
He said local organisations found the county council’s staff very approachable and the working relationship between the local authority and the community was extremely good.
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