The controversial proposed merger of Cork city and county councils will take years to implement with the environment minister admitting the required legislation will not be introduced in the lifetime of the Government.
However, infighting between political and business groups could prevent it ever seeing the light of day.
The recommendation to merge the two councils into one super-authority with three municipal divisions is the upshot of nine months of work by a five-person committee set up to examine two options for future local government arrangements: whether the city boundary should be extended or whether the councils should be unified. The latter option was chosen but the committee failed to reach a consensus position.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly, who yesterday launched the Report of the Cork Local Government Committee, admitted that the legislation needed to facilitate the merger was “a long way off”.
“It was never my plan to have this legislation done as part of this government,” he said, adding that an implementation group would nonetheless be set up to drive the project forward.
While Mr Kelly and committee chair Alf Smiddy said the merger was “the right decision for Cork”, it drew the ire of some business leaders and politicians, essentially pitting city against county.
City lord mayor Chris O’Leary vowed they would “fight it tooth and nail”, arguing the proposal would relegate the country’s second city to the status of a district.
He said the city council “waits with anticipation” to see how the Government would treat a report where the committee had failed to reach a consensus. The two dissenters, lecturer in government at UCC, Dr Theresa Reidy, and professor of history, Dermot Keogh, said in a minority report that they “disagreed with substantial parts of the draft report, the main finding and most of the conclusions”.
However, county mayor John Paul O’Shea welcomed the merger recommendation as did Cork Chamber of Commerce. Chamber president Barrie O’Connell said a unified local authority structure “with a strong metropolitan division at its core will provide Cork with the winning formula to speak with one strong voice”.
Cork Business Association, which largely represents city-based businesses, remains opposed.
Mr Kelly will now bring the recommendation to Government, and pending approval, will set up an implementation group “with milestones and timelines”. The report published yesterday has no specific timeline other than to say it hoped to have substantial legwork done before the 2019 local elections. The report contains no specifics about financial savings on foot of a merger or possible job losses, or how it proposes to go about ensuring devolution of powers from central government to what will be the biggest unitary authority in the country. Mr Kelly said this will be the job of the implementation group.
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