Cork rural and urban politicians divided on council merger

FF leader says city’s status would be undermined and region would lose out

Cork City Hall: politicians in urban and rural areas are divided on plans to merge Cork city and county councils. Photograph: Getty Images

Cork City Hall: politicians in urban and rural areas are divided on plans to merge Cork city and county councils. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Cork politicians have clashed over a controversial report to merge the county and city councils.

Most city-based TDS oppose the move to create one “super local authority” while most, but not all, of the rural TDs support it. There are also divisions along party lines, although Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and smaller parties are most opposed.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has claimed there are serious flaws with the argument put forward in the report, the recommendations of which have been accepted by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly. Two of the five people on the committee disagreed with its recommendation for a single authority and published a minority report.

Mr Martin, a TD for Cork South Central, said Cork city’s status would be undermined if the report’s recommendations are implemented and the entire region would ultimately lose out.

Fine Gael Minister of State Dara Murphy said his strong view was the status quo could not have remained and the existing boundary for Cork city was too small and did not serve the people of the county.

Economic growth

His Cork North Central constituency colleague, Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher, said the city needs a strong metropolitan area for economic growth and the report would not result in that. “If you downgrade the metropolitan area and it does not have a strong voice as part of any region, then you diminish the region as a whole,” he said.

Fine Gael TD for Cork North West Áine Collins welcomed the report and said that even an enlarged local authority would serve a population of 550,000 people, which was not large in an international context.

“We would be better as one council. People from abroad coming to do business or arriving as tourists find dealing with two different councils confusing.”

Her Fine Gael co-constituent Michael Creed said Cork desperately needed a strong city and the merging of both councils would help to achieve that.

The two Fine Gael TDs for Cork South West had slightly different views on the proposed change. Jim Daly said he agreed with it. “I’m interested in tourism and until now there has been a very disjointed approach,” he said. “If you compare Cork to Kerry form a tourism point of view we have been badly lagging behind.”

Noel Harrington said he had some concerns about the report. He said his preferred option was an extended city but not as extended as the one recommended by the minority report, which he said was much too big. He said this option seemed not to have been explored.

Meanwhile, Cork Chamber of Commerce welcomed the merger plans, insisting it will be a “winning formula” which will facilitate the region to speak with “one voice.”

Centre-stage

Chamber president Barrie O’Connell said the overarching recommendation to create a unified local authority structure, with a strong metropolitan division at its core, will ensure that Cork remains centre-stage.

“This is a unique opportunity for the citizens and stakeholders in Cork to now prioritise and position our region as an international location of substance for economic development, with a recognised and valuable contribution to make to the national, European and world economies,” he said.