One year on from the Smiddy group’s controversial Cork council merger plan to create a super-council, Mr Coveney said he now hopes to move the process forward.
The new advisory group will be chaired by Jim Mackinnon, the former chief planner of the Scottish government, and will include John O’Connor, former chairman of An Bórd Pleanála, and current chairman of Eirgrid; Gillian Keating, former president and board member of Cork Chamber; and Paul Martin, the chief executive and director of administration at Wandsworth Council in London
They have been tasked with examining the majority merger report and minority city boundary extension report issued by the Smiddy group in September 2015.
That group, the Cork Local Government Review Group, was split three to two in favour of the merger recommendations, which is now the subject of a legal challenge by Cork City Council.
However, the terms of reference for the new advisory group include a reference to identify and examine a wider range of options.
Mr Coveney said he expects the Mackinnon group to issue a progress report before the end of the year, with a view to a final report early in 2017.
“This will, I hope, enable me to take the necessary political decisions, build consensus and agree next steps to address the issue,” said Mr Coveney.
The terms of reference, which were confirmed last night, say that all available relevant material compiled by the Smiddy group should be made available to Mr Mackinnon’s group as they begin their work.
As well as considering the financial and resource implications of their recommendations, they have also been tasked with:
- Examining the leadership of local government at an executive and political level;
- Considering the possibility of establishing an office of a directly elected mayor;
- Examining the structure and configuration of plenary councils, municipal districts, and electoral areas;
- Considering the potential for devolution of certain powers from central government to the local authorities.
However, unlike the Smiddy group’s terms of reference, the Mackinnon group has been tasked with specifically considering the strategic role of the city as a regional growth centre, and the governance required to safeguard or enhance the metropolitan interests of the city, and to maintain its civic status, identity, character and heritage.
Mr Coveney said he likes to think of himself as a consensus builder.
“It is my intention, once the group has delivered its recommendations to me, to work with all stakeholders to achieve an outcome that fixes the things that we all agree are currently broken, and that offers positive outcomes for all sides,” said Mr Coveney.
“I ask that all sides come with me on this journey with an open mind and a positive outlook.”
Meanwhile, a report on the future of local government arrangements for Galway, which was the subject of a report by an independent review committee in late 2015, is due to be published soon.