Detailed negotiations will be needed before a deal can be agreed to end a contentious dispute over new boundaries for the Cork City and Cork County Council areas, three former lord mayors have cautioned.
The two local authorities have agreed to engage in a mediation process in relation to a proposed extension of the city area, which would see the county council forced to cede a not-insignificant amount of its land, population and revenue raising base.
Former Cork lord mayors Cllr Terry Shannon, Cllr John Buttimer and Cllr Chris O'Leary said they believed mediation under the watch of a group appointed by Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy to oversee the implementation of the boundary extension had the potential to resolve the impasse.
The dispute stems from a report by a local government review group which was sought by Mr Murphy's predecessor, Simon Coveney, a Cork South Central TD.
The Mackinnon report recommends an expansion of the Cork City Council area that would see the size of the city increase sevenfold and its population grow from 125,000 to 225,000. It said the city should expand to include suburbs such as Rochestown, Frankfield and Ballyvolane as well as satellite towns and villages such as Ballincollig, Blarney, Little Island and Carrigtwohill.
The report was welcomed by Cork City Council when published in June but it provoked major controversy in the Cork County Council area with councillors warning the loss of the suburbs, towns and villages would cost the local authority a large part of its revenue-earning base.
A compromise offer from Cork County Council, which involved the handover of a smaller area, was rejected by the city council which said the recommendations in the report were not up for debate.
Mr Murphy last week wrote to Mayor of Cork County Cllr Declan Hurley to confirm that mediation was available and the city council's chief executive, Ann Doherty, later said her local authority was willing to engage.
Cllr Shannon (Fianna Fáil) said the acknowledgment by the county council that it was willing to cede territory to the city marked major progress after 50 years of refusing to do so.
Cllr Buttimer (Fine Gael) welcomed the mediation proposal but pointed out that whatever compromise was reached would have to be both geographically and financially viable for both councils.
“My concern is that we get houses and land but we don’t get anything to fund service provision in these newly acquired areas – in my view, giving us land and houses but without the commensurate resources to service them would be a failed extension,” he said.
“The reality is that local property tax gathered from private houses accounts for just 10 per cent of our annual budget – commercial rates account for over 50 per cent so any boundary extension would have to include areas with commercial rate revenue if it is to prove viable for the city to provide services.”
Cllr O’Leary (Sinn Féin) said any deal would have to be for the long term and provide adequate expansion for Cork city to allow development into the future.
“We have to take that long-term view if we are serious about Cork becoming a counterbalance to Dublin as set out in the National Planning Framework. Doing it on a staged basis every 15 years really is just tokenism. We need a full 50-year extension, otherwise it’s just tinkering at the edges.”