The former president of the Cork Business Association has broken ranks with the group to welcome the proposed merger of Cork’s city and county councils, which is now the focus of a major legal challenge.
Entrepreneur Ernest Cantillon, who employs up to 160 people in his hospitality businesses, has backed the Smiddy group proposal despite the CBA’s opposition to it.
Mr Cantillon, who runs Electric on Cork’s South Mall; Sober Lane on Sullivan’s Quay; a restaurant in Dublin; a digital marketing business; and who held the position of CBA president for two years until last year, said he is 100% in support of the proposed merger.
“I fundamentally disagree with the views expressed by the CBA publicly — as do many business owners in the city,” he said.
“While I have a very close personal relationship with both the current chief executive officer and president of the CBA, I think it is important people know that they are not accurately representing the voices and concerns of their members, in my opinion.”
Mr Cantillon said having read the report of the Cork Local Government Review (CLRG) group, chaired by Alf Smiddy, he fully supports its 15 recommendations.
“I was fortunate enough to be in Silversprings Hotel on the day of the launch, and I was so encouraged and energised with the findings in the report and the commentary from [Environment] Minister Alan Kelly and Alf Smiddy on the day,” he said.
“The points made about creating an efficient and effective unitary authority, speaking with one voice, elimination of duplication and the opportunity for devolved services from central government, etc, all make total sense for me and my businesses. I am very involved in business starts-ups but find it deeply frustrating to have to go to both councils (Local Enterprise Offices), when I look at where to establish the business.
“It’s the very same in planning and housing with huge anomalies between each council, which is deeply frustrating for citizens. Most importantly to me, in terms of tourism, the city and county is totally fragmented and there are so many vested interests and bureaucracy between the councils that we all just give up — the wasted potential is heartbreaking. I am delighted with the announcement, as are many business owners in the city, and fully agree with the position of Cork Chamber on this critical matter for Cork.”
Alf Smiddy with Alan Kelly
He described the Smiddy report as a “new beginning for Cork” and said its recommendations should be put in place immediately.
Meanwhile, the city council is set to seek a judicial review of the administration actions of the CLRG, and is also expected to become the first local authority to challenge the constitutionality of government policy in relation to combining local authority areas.
The legal process will begin following a special council meeting on Monday.
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said it has nothing further to add beyond what Mr Kelly said at the launch of the CLGR report last week. Mr Kelly agreed with the recommendation to create a unified Cork local authority and said there was a strong rationale for devolution of powers and functions, and scope to introduce innovative governance arrangements.
Separately, Mr Smiddy said the lord mayor and county mayor have both agreed to attend roundtable talks with him as he bids to diffuse the controversy sparked by the CLGR recommendations.
Although he no longer has any formal involvement in the now disbanded CLGR review group, he hopes to meet the chief executives of both councils and various business groups over the coming weeks.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved