Galway politicians split on plans to merge city and county councils

Expert group says ‘Greater Galway Authority’ should be formed before 2019 local elections

Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Seán Kyne said he believed the amalgamation of Galway’s city and county councils should be explored but that  should be a consensus on the matter before such a move took place. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Seán Kyne said he believed the amalgamation of Galway’s city and county councils should be explored but that should be a consensus on the matter before such a move took place. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

 

Politicians in Galway are at odds over a proposal by a Department of Environment expert group to merge the city and county councils into a “Greater Galway Authority”.

Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Seán Kyne favours the proposal but his Galway West constituency colleague, former Fianna Fáíl minister Éamon Ó Cuív, is opposed to it.

The expert group, chaired by Prof Eoin O’Sullivan of Trinity College Dublin, says it has “unanimously” recommended that the “option of merging” the two local authorities be “explored further” in time for the 2019 local elections.

The committee says a “Greater Galway Authority” would “maximise the potential of the region to maintain, secure and grow its sustainable economic base into the future”.

The Galway Local Government Committee was set up by former minister for the environment Alan Kelly in January 2015 as part of a general review of local authority governance which has already proved controversial in other areas, particularly Cork.

The Galway report, completed last November and published last Friday, says a merger would “enhance the provision of quality job creation, boost the existing vibrant cultural and artistic milieu, and provide a geographically balanced and integrated approach to economic and social development”.

The committee had examined two other options – the implications of no change, or of extending the city boundary into the county. It says amalgamation would not make any significant cost savings but would make for better work practices and a more positive working environment.

Consensus

Mr Kyne said he believed amalgamation should be explored but also said he accepted the report’s recommendation that there should be a consensus on this.

Mr Ó Cuív said he opposed the proposal as it was based on a “flawed model” which suggested that only cities drove economic growth.

He said it reflected an “incoherence” in Government policy, which could result in the impending national spatial strategy and the action plan for rural Ireland being “completely at odds”.

“The Government has accelerated a withdrawal of services in rural areas over the past five years in favour of cities,” Mr Ó Cuív said. “The homeless crisis in the city is the apex of a major housing crisis in urban areas, with associated problems of drugs and social disadvantage.”

Independent TD Noel Grealish said there would be no quick decision by Minister for Local Government Simon Coveney on the proposal.

City councillor Niall MacNelis (Labour) said he would have serious reservations about a merger, as staffing levels were already at breaking point in both existing local authorities.

Commercial rates in the city could be “swallowed up” in the county, and issues arising in areas like Clifden in Connemara were “very different to those in Knocknacarra in the city”.

“I would have preferred to see the city boundary expand, as we have an enormous traffic issue in Parkmore, where many multinationals are based, and it is on the city/county divide,”Cllr MacNelis said. “If the city council had full control, we could have that traffic situation sorted out.”

Galway Chamber of Commerce endorsed the amalgamation, and cited Parkmore’s traffic as an issue that could be resolved by a single authority.