Cork Chamber’s support for council merger disingenuous, says Mayor

Jerry Buttimer says local government review group fails to show evidence for merger

The Lord Mayor of Cork has challenged business group Cork Chamber over its support for the proposed merger of Cork city and county councils.

Cllr Chris O’Leary said he was dismayed at a recent statement by Cork Chamber in which it expressed concern about what it described as “the unbalanced views” being put forward by opponents of a unified single authority.

Cork Chamber president Barrie O’Connell said it was frustrating that opponents of 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 development and economic policies.


But Cllr O'Leary said he found it hard to reconcile the Chamber's position in favour of abolishing Cork City Council to be replaced with a merged unitary authority with the fact it had nominated Cork City Council as local authority of the year.

“Their approach to this entire process has been less than convincing and transparent. As I understand it, this vocal support for abolition of Cork City and County Councils is not reflective of the views of all Chamber members,” he said.

He said that over the past two years, nine different organisations, including the Chamber and both the City and County Councils, the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, CIT, UCC, Cork Airport and the Port of Cork have worked on what is needed to promote and market Cork and to create "one voice" in doing so.

“For the Chamber to be suggesting that the creation of a single council is all that would be required to create ‘one voice’ is disingenuous and disrespectful to the work of all the organisations involved. I find their pronouncements worryingly simplistic and disingenuous,” he said.

He said that the approach of the Chamber was understandably business focussed but international experience and best practice confirm that strengths in areas such as community, culture, social cohesion and quality of living are all essential to strong economic performance.

“All these areas are simply being ignored by Cork Chamber in a patently unbalanced way. The fact is that dismantling meaningful local government as is proposed will compromise Cork City’s ability to perform and compete in economic terms. The region as a whole will suffer as a result.”

Meanwhile Cork South Central Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer has also come out strongly against the proposed merger recommended in a majority report by the Cork Local Government Review Group chaired by former Beamish & Crawford MD, Alf Smiddy.

The Cork LGRG was set up by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly in January and he welcomed the majority recommendation for a merged single unitary authority but Mr Buttimer, a former member of Cork City Council, expressed strong reservations about such a move.

Mr Buttimer said there was little evidence to suggest the recommendations contained in the Cork LGRG report will deliver improvements for the people of Cork of the type required to provide a platform for Cork to become an eminent European destination for business and tourism.

“Yes, we need to change local government in Cork but I remain to be convinced by these proposals. People and communities must be at the centre of evidence based change. But this report contains a number of contradictions and lacks substantive evidence to support its recommendations,” he said

Mr Buttimer said that far from delivering one council, the LGRG report advocates a city division, a north-east division and a south-west division , which in effect would amount to three separate councils with each subsidiary to an overarching unitary authority.

“Far from delivering one council the report seems to be creating additional administrative layers and moving decisions further away from people and communities,” said Mr Buttimer, adding the report recognises the importance of second cities but fails to provide a structure for a second city.

Given that the recommendation for a merged authority was supported by just three of the five person committee with the other two members arguing for a boundary extension for Cork city, it was clear that a lot more work needs to be done before any change is implemented, he said.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times