Cork merger plan to go to committee

The Cork Local Government Review (CLGR) committee has been invited to appear before a Dáil committee on environment and local government to discuss its controversial merger report which has split the region.

Labour TD and committee chair Michael McCarthy (Cork South West) said he has concerns an area as geographically expansive as West Cork could be run by one super-council based in the city. “I’m not necessarily saying it’s a bad thing. But there is a huge geographical disconnect,” he said.

“We find it difficult at the best of times to assert our own independence from other parts of the region. So I’d be very concerned about the future delivery of local government services if we were now being administered through a city-based local authority system.”

Michael McCarty

He confirmed he has now extended an invitation to members of the CLGR, chaired by business consultant Alf Smiddy, to appear before the Oireachtas committeegiven the significance of their report to the region. A date for the hearing has yet to be fixed.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly established the CLGR last January to examine Cork’s local government structures. Its five members were tasked with reviewing the case for the first extension of Cork’s city boundary in 50 years, or the merging of the city and county councils.

Their final report published last month, recommending a merger of the city and county councils to create one super-council for Cork, split the committee three to two, and the region, and has continued to sparked controversy.

The process has been criticised for its apparent lack of adequate public consultation. It has prompted calls from Fine Gael TD Áine Collins for an independent review of the recommendations pending any government consideration. It is also the subject of a landmark legal challenge being mounted by the city council.

Despite opposition from UCC academics specialising in local government and planning as well as the Cork Business Association, developers Owen O’Callaghan and John Cleary, and Cork TDs Ciarán Lynch (Labour), Jerry Buttimer (Fine Gael) and Jonathan O’Brien (Sinn Féin), the merger proposal has been backed by Cork Chamber, Ibec, and leading business figures including developer Michael O’Flynn and Leslie Buckley.

The recommendations are with Mr Kelly who has yet to bring the matter to Cabinet.

Mr Smiddy said he was ready to defend the CLGR report. “Our work is done and the report is published but I have been saying that I will meet the councils, the lord mayor or anybody else,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Cork. The status quo cannot continue.”

But Mr McCarthy said: “We need to think very carefully about what’s contained in the report, and what the consequences are, not just for the city, but indeed the county, and from my perspective, West Cork.

“It’s important that the five-person group would come into a parliamentary committee of the Oireachtas, and sit down and discuss it with elected members.

“For people to buy into it, for policy makers and for parliamentarians, it’s important to bring the authors of the report into a forum to discuss the contents and ramifications.”

Meanwhile, a public meeting in Cork City on the proposed merger has called on Mr Kelly to hold off on any merger decision pending further consultation. Meeting organiser Oliver Moran, a Green Party candidate in Cork North Central, said it demonstrated what people already knew.

He said: “The proposed merger is not wanted by the people of Cork. The evidence doesn’t stack up and people feel short-changed by the lack of genuine public consultation ahead of this recommendation.”

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