Reform of local government set to undermine status and power of Cork City in driving the economy of the south west

‘Super-council’ will see key urban area absorbed by rural hinterlands

"Cities drive regions". Those three words, ringing with universal truth, open the minority report by two of the five members of the committee set up earlier this year by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly to review local government arrangements in Cork. The other three members, including former Beamish & Crawford chief Alf Smiddy, who chaired the review group, came out in favour of amalgamating the existing city and county councils to create a new unified local authority, whose remit would extend from Bantry to Youghal, and from Mitchelstown to Casteletownbere. Betwixt and between these disparate geographical points would be the husk of Cork City, stripped of any real semblance of local government despite having had its own council since the 12th century.

Not surprisingly, the Minister agrees with the majority report, saying it offered "an opportunity to develop a new model of local government in Cork, with a strong rationale for devolution of powers and functions and scope to introduce innovative governance arrangements." This is arrant nonsense. For a start, the Government has no intention of devolving more powers to our much-reduced and already emasculated set of local authorities in Cork or anywhere else in this suffocatingly centralised State. Neither would the proposed amalgamation offer a "new model of local government", since it would merely follow the unfortunate examples of Limerick and Waterford, two equally historic cities that have been absorbed by their rural hinterlands.

Mr Kelly’s assurance that the creation of a unwieldy “super-council” for Cork city and county “has no implications for the history of local government traditions in Cork City” is bogus. Although the position of lord mayor is to be retained, the role of the holder of this office would be merely ceremonial, with the bauble of the mayoral chain rotated on an annual basis (as it is now), but with no council to give it any real substance. The Minister’s next move, if he’s to pursue this city-killing policy to its logical conclusion, would be to set up another review committee to “objectively examine” governance arrangements in Galway, with a view to getting rid of its city council as well.

The majority report on Cork lacks credibility, whereas the minority report by Prof Dermot Keogh and Dr Theresa Reidy at Appendix Six is well-grounded on international experience that recognises cities as “the epicentre of economic development” in their regions. As a result, they favour extending Cork City’s boundary to take in the entire metropolitan area, with the aim of ensuring that it will be able to compete internationally as the Republic’s second largest city. Everyone in Cork City who agrees with them must now seek to make this a serious issue in the forthcoming General Election -- to save Cork from the depredations of Alan Kelly.