Achieving Cork council reform possible, says Simon Coveney

Minister will not avoid ‘awkward’ issue, calls for ‘blunt and honest conversations’

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Simon Coveney, has said he maintains the view that local government structures in Cork are not delivering for the city nor the county and believes it is possible to achieve reform.

Mr Coveney's predecessor in the Department, Alan Kelly TD, set up a review group in January 2015 to look at the issue under the chairmanship of former Beamish and Crawford managing director, Alf Smiddy, and it issued its report last September.

The review saw Mr Smiddy and fellow review members, senior counsel John Lucey and former Kerry County Manager Tom Curran recommend the merger of Cork City Council and Cork County Council into a single authority with the city operating as division within the structure.

However, fellow review members, UCC academics Prof Dermot Keogh and political scientist Dr Theresa Reidy, dissented and issued a minority report recommendation that the two local authorities be retained with Cork City Council allowed to expand its jurisdiction into the county.


The Smiddy Report, in recommending a merger, proved highly divisive with Cork City Council strongly opposing it to the point that members instructed the council's chief executive officer, Ann Doherty, to seek legal advice on having a judicial review of the report.

Cork County Council broadly welcomed the report, but business interests were also divided, with Cork Chamber and IBEC backing the merger plan while the Cork Business Association came out strongly against it.


Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Coveney acknowledged that the Smiddy Report and its majority recommendation for merger had proven highly divisive but he said he still believed it was possible to achieve a consensus with some straight talking from all sides.

“What I am saying is that I’m not wedded to the Smiddy Report. I think it should be the basis for the conversation that we now need to have but it doesn’t necessarily determine what the outcome should be, so I am going to try and build consensus between city and county on a new approach,” he said.

Asked if that meant he favoured either a merger or the retention of two separate authorities with an expansion of the city boundary, Mr Coveney said he hadn’t decided yet but he intended meeting both city and county council management teams as well as elected members on both bodies.

He said: "I want to have some pretty honest and blunt conversations now with the management of both local authorities and also the elected representatives on both local authorities and other stakeholders in both the city and county such as Cork Chamber and the Cork Business Association and others.

“The problem with the last report was that there are, in reality, two reports - there was the majority report but there was also a minority report produced as well so from the very outset of the debate, you had two very different perspectives, one held by the city and one held by the county.

“It became very political, very nasty and when people started digging their heels in, it became very difficult. It was almost impossible to find a way forward without one side frustrating progress so I need to find a way of ensuring neither side feels threatened or downgraded.

“I’m pretty confident that it is possible to put a compromise position that everyone can be reasonably happy with and if it’s going to work everybody has to buy into it. It will take a bit of time but I know the personalities pretty well and I don’t believe the challenge is insurmountable,” he said.

“And I am going to give that some time but I am not simply going to avoid this because it’s an awkward political issue,” he said.

“I think it is possible to design a solution that the city and county can live with and both will work towards that can provide better outcomes than we have at the moment.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times