Simon Coveney insisted that the Cork Local Government Review (CLGR), published a year ago last Thursday, wasn’t a “total failure” despite its merger recommendation splitting the review group, triggering a judicial review, sparking controversy and being shelved.
He said it has “started a conversation” about the future of the region’s local government structures which is essential if the greater Cork region is to develop as a counterbalance to the capital.
“We are serious about creating a real alternative hub to Dublin here over the next 10 years. The population in the greater Cork region is set to increase to 500,000 and we need to plan for that,”he said.
Mr Coveney signalled last July that the review of the CLGR recommendation will be conducted by a new panel of experts in a bid to find a compromise.
He said he hopes the review will be complete before the end of the year, adding: “All options are still on the table but I’m hoping to find an agreement between the city and county about what local government structures will look like.”
Mr Coveney was speaking after figures released under the Freedom of Information Act showed that the CLGR process, chaired by business consultant Alf Smiddy, cost taxpayers close to €160,000.
Cork City Council spent just over €67,000 engaging in the process, Cork County Council spent €43,000 and the Department of the Environment (now the Department of Housing, Planning and Community and Local Government), spent just over €47,000 in support of the CLGR group.
While the five-member CLGR committee — Mr Smiddy, former Kerry county manager Tom Curran, John Lucey SC, and UCC academics Dermot Keogh and Theresa Reidy — were not paid for their work, just over €5,000 was paid out to cover their travel costs.
Other costs included secretarial duties, hire of facilities, advertising, and analytical support.
Following months of public consultation, they published their final report on September 8, 2015, recommending a merger of the city and county councils to create a super-council.
However, the group was split three to two in favour of the merger, with Mr Keogh and Ms Reidy publishing a minority report arguing for an extension of the city boundary and the retention of both councils.
Cork City Council has since sought a judicial review of the CLGR process, and the Smiddy report has been effectively shelved.
Mr Coveney previously said he recognises that implementing changes to the region’s local government structures will be difficult unless both councils are on board.