Constitutional challenge over councils merger

The Government is set to face a constitutional challenge over the Cork super-council plan following a historic midnight meeting of the city council.

Constitutional challenge over councils merger

City councillors were expected to move a Section 140 motion in the early hours of this morning directing the council chief executive, Ann Doherty, to seek a judicial review of the actions of the Cork Local Government Review (CLGR) group which published its city and county council merger recommendation two weeks ago.

The Section 140 will also see the city council become the first local authority to challenge the constitutionality of Government policy on the mergers of local authorities.

The vote came at the end of a day of megaphone diplomacy as the controversy over the CLGR report rages on.

The review group, which reported to Environment Minister Alan Kelly two weeks ago, was split three to two in favour of merging Cork city and county councils.

Earlier yesterday, Cork County Council chief executive Tim Lucey warned that ongoing public statements over the merger proposal could damage Cork’s international reputation and the future for businesses and prospective investment.

Cork County Council chief executive Tim Lucey
Cork County Council chief executive Tim Lucey

Later, county mayor John Paul O’Shea wrote to the Lord Mayor, Chris O’Leary, to ask city councillors to hold off triggering the legal challenge pending talks with the proposed implementation group.

Mr O’Leary said the council had flagged its intent last Monday directly with the Taoiseach, the environment minister, and the secretary general of his department.

“It’s disingenuous of the county mayor to advise me or ask me to do something when he has failed to see democracy work in his chamber where the whole thing could be debated in the first place,” he said.

Ms Doherty, the city council chief executive, also broke her silence on the report and said she felt “reluctantly compelled” to “dispel myths” being put forward by some of those supporting the merger.

“There are simply too many independent voices saying that this report and its recommendations come nowhere near to meeting that standard for it to be allowed to remain unchallenged,” she said.

“Cork is too illustrious and too proud a city to sit back and watch its remarkable history of local governance sacrificed on the altar of expediency.”

Ann Doherty
Ann Doherty

However, business group Ibec urged the Government last night to implement the merger and other reforms quickly. “All the stakeholders now need to work together to ensure the opportunity for reform isn’t lost,” said its Cork regional executive president, Dave Ronayne.

Meanwhile, the Local Authority Members Association plans to put the issue of local government reform on the agenda of every local authority in the country.

It has drafted a motion supporting Cork City Council’s legal challenge which will be tabled first by Sinn Féin councillors on Cork County Council next week — the first time the county has debated the CLGR report.

“Twelve local authorities had, by last night, agreed to debate the resolution next month,” said Fianna Fáil councillor Terry Shannon.

“I’m very confident that the 30 other councils will debate the issues facing us. We want to safeguard local democracy and keep local government at a local level.”

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