We’ve done our bit — now it’s up to the minister,.
That was the message from the lord mayor of Cork, Tony Fitzgerald, tonight as city councillors endorsed a compromise boundary extension proposal which was agreed following a day of marathon talks.
“We didn’t want a decision made in Dublin about Cork’s city boundary,” he said. “Now after all of the discussions, we’ve arrived at a point where the implementation oversight group can make a recommendation to government.”
The compromise was agreed by the chief executives of both councils and representatives of the city and county councils, under the auspices of the implementation oversight group, chaired by former head of An Bord Pleanála, John O’Connor, during marathon talks today.
While city councillors endorsed it later, county councillors remain divided. A briefing in County Hall went tonight, with splits emerging in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
However, the boundary proposal is expected to be forwarded to the Planning and Local Government Minister Eoghan Murphy by Mr O’Connor before the end of this week.
Legislation to give effect to the extension should be introduced before next March.
Mr Fitzgerald said the scaled-down version of the Mackinnon boundary extension will ensure that Cork is the southern capital of the region, and best positioned to drive development and growth in the region.
“It has taken 50 years to reach a conclusion on this. But the citizens of Cork are at the centre of this boundary extension,” he insisted.
Former lord mayor, Sinn Féin councillor Chris O’Leary, said the compromise delivers about two-thirds of the Mackinnon proposal, and represents a good deal for the city.
“It gives us a city of scale to develop,” he said.
Fine Gael councillor John Buttimer said the proposed extension will ensure the economic viability of both local authorities.
“Now we have to work on the real substantive issues of service delivery, economic development, planning and the matters that really affect the people and businesses of Cork,” he said.
Fianna Fáil councillor Terry Shannon said he was disappointed at the lopsided nature of the boundary extension but that it was probably the best deal available.
“It was important that we come to a deal because I think it’s important that we show the country that Cork can actually do its business,” he said. “The ongoing wrangle with the county was not doing us any good.”
Independent councillor Mick Finn welcomed the deal but took a swipe at some county councillors opposed to the boundary extension, who, in recent weeks, described Cork “as a city dying on its last legs”.
“These comments were uneducated at best and really nothing short of disgraceful,” he said.
“The compromise proposals will allow the city to grow for the first time in half a century.”
The Cork Business Association (CBA) gave a cautious welcome to the compromise.
“There was always going to be some element of compromise,” chief executive Lawrence Owens said.
“While this extension doesn’t give us the critical mass of a population of 250,000, it’s a pragmatic solution. The inertia around the issue for the last few years has affected the region.
“We now need to get on with the day job of developing the region and what’s good for Cork Inc.”
However, he said such a drawn-out boundary process should never be allowed happen again.
“If we’ve learned anything from this process it’s this — we need to have a practical mechanism that will allow the city to expand,” he said.
“Building in a mandatory review structure in a decade or two would allow for the natural, logical and reasonable expansion of the city — otherwise we will be in the same mess again.”
Oliver Moran, Green Party representative in Cork North Central, who campaigned against the proposed merger of the city and county councils, echoed those calls.
“We need an objective framework for deciding city boundaries in Ireland,” he said.
“It’s farcical that on the one hand we want to grow Cork as a counter-balance to Dublin — but then when it does, it finds itself wrestling with the county to adjust its boundary.”