Report on merging Cork councils due out within weeks

The minister for local government has said he hopes to get political consensus on a new report he intends publishing within weeks which will shape the future of local government arrangements in Cork for the next 50 years.

It was hoped that the Mackinnon review of the controversial Cork Local Government Review process, the so-called Smiddy report, which recommended a merger of Cork city and county councils, would be ready by now.

The key recommendation — to create a super-council — split the five-person committee three-to-two in favour of the merger, with UCC academics Prof Dermot Keogh and Dr Theresa Reidy publishing a minority report supporting an extension of Cork’s city boundary.

The recommendations triggered an unprecedented legal challenge by Cork City Council.

The stand-off led to the establishment last year of an expert five-person review group, chaired by the former chief planner in Scotland, Jim Mackinnon, which was asked to review the Smiddy recommendations and report back to the minister.

Unlike the Smiddy committee, the Mackinnon group was asked specifically to consider the strategic role of Cork City as a regional growth centre, and to consider the governance arrangements required to safeguard or enhance the metropolitan interests of the city.

The minister, Simon Coveney said he has received a comprehensive 130-page draft report from the expert review group and has sought clarification on a number of its recommendations.

He said it has drawn extensively on the research contained in the Smiddy report, published by former environment minister Alan Kelly in September 2015.

But he refused to be drawn on the nature of, or the details of its specific recommendations at this stage.

“I have seen an initial draft and I have some questions in relation to that draft that I’ve asked them to take a more detailed look at,” he said. 

“For example, they were using 2011 Census figures and making assumptions around the 2016 figures. I’d like the report to have 2016 figures updated.

“And there were some other issues that were being recommended which I think make sense but I wanted to get some further evidence from them, as to the basis of those decisions.”

He said the final report should be ready for publication by the first week of June, but suggested that the clarification could be completed quickly, so the publication date may be sooner.

“It’s a very comprehensive piece of work, and I hope we will be able to get political consensus,” Mr Coveney said. 

“Of course there’ll be some people who won’t be happy but I think it will be politically saleable.

“I’m a pragmatist. I want to get something of significance done that can put a governance structure in place for Cork as a region for the next 50 years. That’s what I’m trying to do here.”

He said once the report is finalised, he will advise senior city and council management a few hours before he intends to publish it.

He said he expects to launch the review group’s recommendations in the presence of members of the MacKinnon group.

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