Local Government Minister, Simon Coveney, has included the ‘full access’ reference in the new advisory group’s terms of reference, despite the State’s refusal to release most of the documentation, under Freedom of Information legislation, over the past 12 months.
However, the city council, which sought access to the documents — as part of its legal challenge to the 2015 Smiddy group’s recommendation — is still pursuing judicial proceedings.
A spokesperson for Mr Coveney confirmed that the new, four-person group will conduct the review voluntarily.
The Scotland government’s former director of planning, Jim Mackinnon, will lead the group, which also includes Cork-born John O’Connor, Eirgrid chairperson and former head of An Bord Pleanála; Gillian Keating, a partner at Cork law firm, Ronan Daly Jermyn and former president of Cork Chamber, and Paul Martin, chief executive of the £900m-run Wandsworth Council, in London.
Mr Mackinnon was, until 2012, chief planner and director of the Built Environment with the Scottish government.
Mr Coveney has asked them to undertake “further, comprehensive and rigorous examination and analysis” of the issues dealt with by the Cork Local Government Review (the Smiddy group), which split three-to-two in favour of a council merger last year.
The new group has been asked to consider the Smiddy group’s merger report and the minority report that recommended an extension of the city boundary.
They have been asked to advise Mr Coveney on how best to address the issues on which the Smiddy group was unable to provide agreed recommendations, and to consider new options, and issue a progress report before the end of the year.
Mr Coveney wants to break the impasse.
“I ask that all sides come with me on this journey with an open mind,” he said.