Merger of councils ‘best for Cork’, Alan Kelly says

Heated exchanges in Dáil over plan to turn city and county councils into single entity

 Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly:  “It is to put Cork in a position that it can compete on a regional basis with the conurbation that is around Dublin.”  Photograph: Dave Meehan

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly: “It is to put Cork in a position that it can compete on a regional basis with the conurbation that is around Dublin.” Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

There were heated exchanges in the Dáil in a row over the proposed amalgamation of Cork city and county councils, which Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly insisted was “best for Cork”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien, both Cork TDs, expressed their opposition to the merger during a topical issues debate.

Mr Martin said the proposal was “anti-politician” and he believed “this is all mythology about the idea that a new unified structure somehow works a Nirvana and gives you a better outcome”.

Mr O’Brien described it as “fundamentally wrong for Cork” and accused the Minister of pushing the project despite the report only being passed by the casting vote of the chairman of the committee. He said the chief executive of Cork City Council took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement “debunking the myths” that amalgamation would produce significant economic improvements while a boundary extension would not. “There is no empirical evidence whatsoever to support that assumption.”

He added that there was no opportunity for the public in Cork to give their opinion, there had been no town hall meetings, no proper consultation. Mr Kelly said the group had considered the proposal for nine months.

“It is to put Cork in a position that it can compete on a regional basis with the conurbation that is around Dublin.”

The Minister also quoted Mr Martin’s party and constituency colleague Michael McGrath who supported a single authority and said the option of a major extension in the city boundary while retaining two separate authorities would not be the optimum recommendation and would raise major funding concerns.

He said fragmentation and weak local government structures had inhibited devolution up to now. Stronger, more coherent, local authorities could help to reverse this and reduce centralisation.

Much was made of the report by a committee looking at the issue was a majority report the committee were in full agreement on important aspects including the conclusion that “retaining the status quo is not a realistic option and the need to acknowledge and develop Cork city in the economic and social development of the region”.

He said the suggestion that Cork city would suffer economically and socially in a unified authority “is simply not well founded”.