Elected members of Cork County Council have sought access to legal advice on a proposed boundary extension recommended by a Government-appointed oversight body which would see the county council cede major tracts of land to Cork City Council.
Fianna Fáil councillors and several Independent councillors strongly condemned the proposed expansion of Cork city agreed between Cork County Council chief executive Tim Lucey and Cork City Council chief executive Ann Doherty on December 4th which will see the city expand by more than three times its current size.
The agreement between Cork County Council and Cork City Council was forwarded on December 5th to an implementation oversight group to oversee local government reform in Cork which was set up last July by Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy.
Its chairman, John O’Connor, confirmed to Cork County Council on December 6th that he had recommended the agreed boundary extension to Mr Murphy whom, it is understood, may bring the recommendation for approval at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
On December 4th, following a lengthy briefing by Mr Lucey on the deal, councillors agreed to write to Mr O’Connor, asking the oversight group to also ask the Minister to seek the views of the people in the areas designated for transfer and inquire whether they wanted to become part of Cork city.
But at Monday's county council meeting numerous councillors strongly criticised the decision to agree to the transfer of Ballincollig, Blarney and Tower to Cork City Council as part of the deal which will see the city expand into the county and its population grow by about 80,000 from 125,000.
Some councillors acknowledged that Mr Lucey had no choice but to agree as failure to reach agreement would have resulted in the oversight group reverting to the Mackinnon local government review report, which recommended an even greater boundary extension for the city.
Neither Mr Lucey nor mayor of Cork county Cllr Declan Hurley, who issued a statement welcoming the deal, was present at Monday's council meeting as they were representing Cork County Council at a tourism awards ceremony in Vietnam where Cork was honoured for its Spike Island visitor centre.
But councillors called on west Cork divisional chief executive Clodagh Henehan, who was deputising for Mr Lucey, to release legal advice that the council had obtained earlier this year from senior counsel Michael McDowell on the local government reform process and what legal options were available.
Fianna Fáil councillor Daithi Ó Donnabháin, who represents Ballincollig, said the council had asked for and paid for the legal advice and it should be made available immediately to councillors so they could see whether the boundary extension as recommended by the oversight group could be judicially reviewed.
Fellow Fianna Fáil councillor Bob Ryan also backed the call for the legal advice to be made available to councillors as a matter of urgency as people in Ballincollig, Blarney and Tower had no say in the process given their public representatives were never asked to vote or agree to the deal.
Independent councillor Kevin Conway, from Blarney, said the entire process had lacked any democratic input as the first that he had learned that Blarney was to be transferred to Cork City Council was from a member of the media on the morning of December 4th.
Cllr Conway said he was opposed to the decision by Mr Lucey to agree a deal for forwarding to the oversight group as it was obvious to him that Blarney and Tower had become "a sacrificial lamb" to save the county council from having to cede Little Island with its rich rates base.
But Fine Gael councillor Gerard Murphy, from Newmarket in north Cork, said the issue of the council taking a legal challenge against the boundary extension would apply only if the Minister decided to make the change through a ministerial order.
If the Cabinet decided that the boundary extension required new primary legislation, that would require a Dáil vote and Fianna Fáil would have the opportunity to shoot it down in the chamber as the Government would need the party's support for any such change, Cllr Murphy said.
Ms Henehan said she would have to take legal advice on whether to release Mr McDowell’s advice as she did not want to compromise the council’s position by disclosing the advice in the event of the council having to act on it at some later stage.