Council merger on job list as manager starts Limerick post

Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 01:00

Revitalising Limerick city is a key objective in the overhaul of the local authority system, writes KATHRYN HAYES

A NEW era in local government has begun in Limerick where the first radical overhaul of the local authority system is about to take place.

The amalgamation of Limerick city and county councils in 2014 is likely to result in staff reductions of about 20 per cent.

Conn Murray, the man who will oversee the merger, starts his first full week at the job today.

The start of his €150,000 contract has been described locally as marking “a line in the sand” for both Limerick and the midwest region.

A native of Co Meath, he listed the dereliction of parts of Limerick city centre as one of his key priorities and insisted the “unified voice” of the new authority would help secure Limerick’s footing as a city of 100,000 people.

He said he believed the midwest region could not take its place as a competitive location for business without a thriving Limerick city.

“Limerick will not survive without a vibrant city. The midwest will not be able to take its place as a competitive location for international business or national business without a thriving city. And it’s that focus that will enable us to grow the county, as it will the region itself,” he said.

He was reluctant to say how long the revitalisation of Limerick would take, but said he saw the vacant Opera Centre site in the city centre as one of the main catalysts for this process.

“We must move with that [the opera centre] as quickly as possible but none of this is going to happen overnight and that is something that I would be mindful of. There is an expectation that the world may change because there is a unified authority. It will not, but we will work to change that,” he said.

Married to a Limerick woman, the 50-year-old described his return to Limerick as a “home coming of sorts” having previously worked for Limerick City Council from 1997-2003 as assistant town clerk and later as director of services.

“It’s rare you have an opportunity to come back to a location and they often say it’s not necessarily the right thing . . . but in the context of an opportunity of being one of the first to merge two large authorities . . . that opportunity does not necessarily present itself in local government on a continuing basis,” he said.

Over his 33 years in local government Murray had managed Waterford city before taking up a position as manager of Louth County Council, where he worked for the past five years.

In Co Louth, he was seen as a manager that gave leadership in difficult times and the Louth Economic Forum, which helped deliver 1,000 jobs at Paypal in Dundalk, is regarded as one of his best achievements. The new Limerick manager said it was inevitable the amalgamation of the two authorities would lead to a reduction in staff numbers due to a duplication of services.

He was reluctant to say what this reduction would be but it is understood to be in the region of 20 per cent.

A reduction in commercial rates in Limerick was also on Murray’s priority list but he warned “the expectation of overnight reductions is probably far too high”.