Coveney to publish Cork local government reform report in two weeks

Advisory group examines both merger and expansion of Cork councils options in review

 

Minister for Local Government Simon Coveney has confirmed he expects to be in a position to publish the report of an advisory group looking at local government reform in Cork in two weeks time.

Mr Coveney said the report had been delayed for about a month because of personal reasons relating to a member of the advisory group.

However, he expected to get the report within the next week or so, and then publish it before the end of the month.

“I think we are back on track - my understanding is that there is a broad agreement among the group of people working on this and they are finalising their recommendations - I don’t have them yet but we are about two weeks away from being able to publish the recommendations.”

However, Mr Coveney would not be drawn on whether the group’s recommendations would be politically saleable to members of Cork City Council who had opposed a previous proposal to merge with Cork County Council and their counterparts in the county. Cork county council and their counterparts had favoured such a move.

The advisory group, chaired by former chief planner for Scotland Jim Mackinnon, was established last October.

It has spent the past six months examining both majority and minority reports published in September 2015 by a previous group chaired by ex- Beamish & Crawford managing director Alf Smiddy.

The Smiddy report, which was commissioned by Mr Coveney’s predecessor Labour’s Alan Kelly, proved highly divisive with the majority report calling for the merger of the two councils, and the minority report arguing for the retention of two councils and the expansion of the city boundary.

But the new group’s terms of reference include examining local government leadership at executive and political levels as well as looking at the possibility of establishing an office of a directly elected mayor, and the potential for devolving some powers from central government to local authorities.

However, unlike the Smiddy group, the Mackinnon group has also been tasked with specifically considering the strategic role of Cork city as a regional growth centre and the governance required to safeguard or enhance the metropolitan interests of the city and maintain its identity.

Speaking to The Irish Times in January, Mr Coveney acknowledged the changed political reality since the Smiddy report was published as the Fine Gael led minority government is reliant on agreement from Fianna Fáil whose leader, Michael Martin is opposed to any merger of the Cork councils.

Mr Coveney said that whatever the Mackinnon group recommends - merger, expansion of Cork City Council or some other alternative - would need either support or at least non-opposition from Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin who are also on record as opposing any plan to merge the two councils.

“First and foremost we need to do the right thing for Cork city and county, and the way I will approach this is not by trying to keep Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin happy although ultimately if we can do that, it means we can introduce whatever reform is proposed,” he said.

“I am not foolish enough to try and ram something through against the will of the majority of parties in Dáil- the last thing I want is to have a proposal that is going to result in Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin coming together with a counter proposal - I won’t do anything if that’s the case.

“But I would like to think we can put something together that makes such a strong case that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin will support what we want to do - my job is to make sure whatever reform is proposed is politically saleable because it is going determine Cork’s future for the next 30 years.”