Cork business groups clash over council merger plans

Cork Chamber and Cork Business Association take opposing views of proposal

Business organisations in Corkhave clashed amid deepening divisions over the proposed merger of Cork city and county councils.

The move was recommended by a majority of a local government review group set up by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly.

Cork Chamber which represents some 1,100 businesses, urged the local community to focus on the positives which a unified Cork local authority would bring. It expressed concern about what it described as “the unbalanced views” being put forward by opponents of a unified single authority.

Chamber president Barrie O’Connell said it was frustrating that those opposed to the merger failed to mention “the plethora of benefits” associated with unification such as enhanced economic development, jobs growth and faster and more efficient decision making.


Mr O’Connell said that opponents of a single unitary authority also failed to highlight the benefits of moving away from fragmentation across the Cork region on key strategic areas such as tourism, enterprise devilment and economic policies.

“It is fundamental that we are in a position to speak with one strong united voice on behalf of a population in excess of 500,000 people,” Mr O’Connell said. It would enable Cork to compete as “an international location of substance with some of the best second tier cities on the globe”, he said.

“The emerging role and future for local authorities regardless of structure is on driving economic development, creating jobs and ultimately delivering for Cork’s people and business community,” he said.

“However, much of the debate has been centred on a narrow view of power, which is limiting to both citizens and businesses, rather than the incremental power generated through greater capacity and one voice for the Cork region.”

Cork Chamber chief executive Conor Healy said that the chamber, having carried out in-depth research and analysing available international and national research, was satisfied that the Cork Local Government Review Group was correct to recommend a unified local authority.

However the Cork Business Association (CBA), which represents about 250 businesses mainly in the city, on Friday re-iterated its opposition to the merger idea and accused Cork Chamber of being disingenuous in its criticism of opponents of the proposed merger.

CBA Chief Executive Lawrence Owens said Cork Chamber's approach appeared to be to characterise any view opposed to the majority view of the Local Government Review Group chaired by former Beamish & Crawford MD, Alf Smiddy as "unbalanced" and those who disagree as "adversaries".

"Cork Business Association is fundamentally opposed to the merger and will continue to be so. We are satisfied that the proposals outlined in the Smiddy majority report are bad for both the city and county," he said.

Mr Owens said the CBA view was based on the belief that cities drive regional economic development and that a city stripped of its essential powers cannot function properly and they remained “diametrically opposed to the model which the Chamber espouses”.

"An adoption of the Smiddy Review Group recommendation, arrived at by the narrowest of margins - three to two members - would effectively end Cork's status as Ireland's second city. This will not only have local and regional ramifications but national consequences as well.

“The proposals outlined in the Smiddy majority report are opposed by a wide cross-section of business, political and community interests in Cork. The two eminent academics who sat on the Review group opposed the proposals. Those whose job it is to research these issues opposed it.

“It is not for us to comment on the research of another organisation but we think it rather a pity that Chamber did not avail of the research capacities available in UCC, an institution whose value it regularly trumpets. Had the Chamber so engaged, it might have come to a different conclusion.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times