Cork Ibec defends decision to change position on merger of councils

Employers group had argued in submission against merger and for boundary extension

Dr Theresa Reidy  of UCC, co-author of a submission  for Ibec in Cork to  the  Cork Local Government Review Committee,  which  opposed the merger of the two Cork councils. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Dr Theresa Reidy of UCC, co-author of a submission for Ibec in Cork to the Cork Local Government Review Committee, which opposed the merger of the two Cork councils. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

The Cork branch of employers group Ibec has denied a U-turn over the proposed merger of Cork city and county council after coming under pressure. The Cork Local Government Review Committee has recommended the two councils should be merged into a single unitary authority. In a statement, Ibec’s Cork regional executive president, David Ronayne, says the group is fully behind the “ambitious” reform proposal .

“Ibec’s Cork members support the recommendation [for a merger] and want to see the reforms implemented as quickly as possible,” said Mr Ronayne, adding that the feedback from Ibec members in Cork was for real reform in service delivery.

Last February, the group, which represents 310 members employing 60,000 people, made a detailed 24-page submission to the committee in which it opposed the move. In it, it said the case for extending the city boundary of Cork city “has merit” and argued that “a unified local authority faced significant challenges” because of Cork’s geographic size and population.

“The boundary of Cork City Council should be extended to incorporate its suburbs. This reflects the current economic realities as well as better enabling the city to compete globally,” the submission said.

“Ibec would not support a proposal to merge Cork city and county as efficiency gains are unproven . . . The case for increasing the boundary of Cork city is stronger because areas immediately bordering the city are strategically important,” the group said.

Mr Ronayne said that following its own submission, Cork Ibec closely studied some of the other 95 submissions, particularly those from both Cork City Council and Cork County Council. It also had meetings with management teams from both councils.

“When we read the county council’s submission we were surprised at the level of business rates that are being paid in the doughnut that surrounds Cork city – from Ringaskiddy up through Douglas and Togher and around the city to Glanmire and Little Island,” he said. “The income from that is huge, according to the county council, and the report suggests that a boundary extension to transfer that to the city would amount to an annual loss to the county of between €27 million and €36 million.”

The majority report recommends the inclusion of this area into a metropolitan Cork division which would expand the city-controlled area from 40 sq km to 834 sq km, marking a 20-fold increase which would make for a dynamic metropolitan division, he said.

“The population would go from 120,000 people up to 290,000,” he noted. “The number of councillors would go from 31 to 48 and they would have a majority over councillors from the other two divisions, while the position of lord mayor would be retained.”

This would enable the new metropolitan area to provide services including economic development incentives for a much larger area and population with the natural hinterland of the city now being represented within the new metropolitan division.

Mr Ronayne said the minority report drawn up by UCC academics Prof Dermot Keogh and Dr Theresa Reidy highlighted the difficulties that took three years to resolve in the last city boundary extension in 1964 when the city council acquired 900 acres from the county.

“Being objective, I should say we wouldn’t be in this problem today if the county had agreed over the past 20 years to extend the city by smaller increments when the city was naturally increasing,” said Mr Ronayne, adding Ibec Cork came under no pressure to change its views.