Ibec reverses position to back Cork Council merger

Business group Ibec has defended its U-turn on the Cork council merger plan.

The business and employer association, which argued for a boundary extension in its submission to the Cork Local Government Review (CLGR) group earlier this year, has now backed the group’s city and county council merger proposal, which is now the subject of a legal challenge.

In its submission to the CLGR in February, Ibec said the Cork region’s unique social and economic profile may not lend itself to the amalgamation of the city and county councils.

It suggested an extension of the city boundary to incorporate its suburbs to reflect current economic realities as well as better enabling the city to compete globally.

“Extending the boundary to include all of the metropolitan area may not be feasible in terms of responding to the needs of specific areas,” its submission reads.

The document also called for an “equalisation or compensation mechanism” to ensure the county council would not be unduly disadvantaged from any boundary change. And it said the costs of transitioning to new local government arrangements should not fall on Cork’s business community.

However, in a statement issued ahead of Monday’s midnight meeting of Cork City Council, which sanctioned legal action against the merger proposal, Ibec urged the Government to act on and implement quickly the CLGR’s recommendations.

Ibec’s Cork regional executive president Dave Ronayne, CEO of Irish Mainport Holdings, said they had certain information and facts to hand when they compiled the submission earlier in the year. However, he said, as a result of engagement with the CLGR group, and having read all the submissions, including the detailed submissions from both the city and county councils, Ibec became aware of much more information as the review process unfolded.

He said Ibec engaged fully and seriously with the review process, read and examined all the submissions made to the CLGR, and had several meetings with both city and county council officials. And, Mr Ronayne said, once the CLGR issued its final report two weeks ago recommending a merger, Ibec took time to consider the recommendations before arriving at a different position to its first submission.

“We read the report, and considered it, and, based on the report and on what we feel is best for all of Cork, we now support a merger,” he said. “But it’s on condition that it is properly and professionally implemented for the benefit of all citizens of Cork.”

Alf Smiddy and Environment Minister Alan Kelly
Alf Smiddy and Environment Minister Alan Kelly

Mr Ronayne said Cork’s Ibec members, who employ some 60,000 people in the region, are “full square” behind the reform of both the structure and service delivery of local government in Cork.

“The status quo is simply not an option for businesses across the Cork region,” he said.

“Both enterprise and households need to see reformed local government, which delivers higher quality services and more effectively promotes the development of the wider Cork region. The current local government structures are no longer suited for the development of either the metropolitan area or the wider region. Similar reform is also needed right across the country.”

He said the CLGR group, chaired by business consultant Alf Smiddy, had carried out a difficult task and produced an excellent report.

“It concludes that meaningful reform can only be achieved through the creation of a merged local government authority,” he said.

“Ibec’s Cork members support the recommendation and want to see the reforms implemented as quickly as possible.

“All the stakeholders now need to work together to ensure the opportunity for reform isn’t lost.”

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