Cork city must retain power to self-govern, say 18 former mayors

‘Profound concern’ at prospect of new single authority to run both city and county

Patrick’s Hill viewed from Patrick Street in  Cork. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien.

Patrick’s Hill viewed from Patrick Street in Cork. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien.

 

Some 18 former lords mayor of Cork have warned that the city will cease to function if it loses its powers to self-govern.

The 18, from Fianna Fáil, Labour and Fine Gael, said they had “a profound concern” that the current Cork Local Government Review Group could recommend the abolition of city governance through a new single authority to run both the city and county.

“The idea that Cork city, the country’s second city, should be divested of its essential powers to self-govern, to run its own affairs, to set its own budgets and to strategise for the future is an extraordinary proposition,” they said in a statement.

“The notion is simply preposterous,” they added.

In January, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly appointed a review group to examine the Cork city boundary issue with a view to either extending it to encompass a larger metropolitan area or merging it with Cork County Council to create one local authority for the city and county.

The review group, under the chairmanship of former Beamish and Crawford managing director Alf Smiddy, received submissions from some 90 interested parties. It is due to present its report and recommendations to the Minister by September.

Now the 18 former lords mayor, including Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and several former TDs, have come out strongly against any plan to incorporate Cork city into a larger unitary authority, warning that “a city without power is not a city”.

Divisional status

“Cork city, with its rich social and economic history, would be relegated to ‘divisional status’ within a single county authority, a type of municipal district with the same standing as country town,” they said. “This is beyond belief and is now a distinct possibility.”

They pointed out that Cork city has been the driver of regional economic development for centuries and was a pioneer in the area of long-term strategic planning in Ireland.

They also said the city had been accorded special status in the National Spatial Strategy, and its importance as a counter-balance to Dublin had been recognised by government ministers of all parties, as well as by economists and planners, for years.

“Cities across the globe are recognised as centres for economic development and planning,” they said. “An enlarged Cork city, with a full range of powers, has huge potential to be a counter-magnet to the ever increasing pull of Dublin.”

Regional balance

The lords mayor went on to say that it “can become a crucial centre for investment and job creation . . . It is widely recognised that Cork represents Ireland’s only prospect of achieving such a regional balance. It won’t achieve this, however, with a powerless and ineffectual local ‘division’ at its heart.”

They also criticised Cork County Council for supporting the “so-called super council idea”, saying the council had “steadfastly resisted the expansion of Cork city for 50 years”.

“Having now seen that its previous position on the boundary extension is likely to be defeated by the logic that has always existed, Cork County Council now offers a Governance proposal which will, if implemented, have a hugely detrimental effect on the city,” they said.

The former lords mayor also criticised Cork Chamber of Commerce, which has backed the idea of a single unitary authority. They said the chamber would be happy to “gerrymander representational rights to achieve the primacy of the city’s interests through the disenfranchisement of rural areas”.

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin has recently acknowledged that the abolition of town councils was a mistake, they said. It is only now that people are beginning to appreciate the foolishness of abandoning local government and local democracy in towns and smaller urban centres, they added.

“Cork could be the next target for this type of dangerous experimentation, based on the same wisdom and wishful thinking that produced corporate entities like the HSE and Irish Water,” they said.