Report on Cork local government reform due before June
Coveney discreet on recommendations but Minister believes content politically saleable
Minister for Local Government Simon Coveney: “I want to get something of significance done.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Minister for Local Government Simon Coveney has confirmed that expects to publish a 130 page report on local government reform in Cork before the start of June after he sought some clarifications on a draft form of the report.
Mr Coveney would not be drawn on what the advisory group chaired by former chief planner for Scotland Jim Mackinnon had recommended. But he said he was very pleased with the quality of the report and he believed it was politically saleable in Cork and nationally.
“I have some questions in relation to the initial draft that I’ve asked the advisory group to take a more detailed look at. For example, they were using 2011 census figures and making assumptions around the 2016 census figures but I would like the report to have the updated 2016 census figures.
“And then there were some other issues that were being recommended which I think make sense. But I just wanted to get further evidence from them as to the basis of those decision. I think it’s a very good piece of work and when we launch it, I hope we will get political consensus.
“Of course there will be some people who won’t be happy but I think it will be politically saleable; I’m a pragmatist. I want to get something of significance done that can put a governance structure in place for Cork as a region for the next 50 years, that’s what I’m trying to do here.”
Mr Coveney’s predecessor, Labour TD Alan Kelly, commissioned former Beamish & Crawford managing director Alf Smiddy to look at the issue of local government reform in Cork and whether Cork City Council should expand or merge with Cork County Council.
A majority report by the Smiddy group recommended a merger – which proved highly controversial – while a minority report by academic members of the review, Prof Dermot Keogh and Dr Theresa Reidy, advocated the retention of two local authorities but with an expansion of the city council area.
Mr Coveney would not be drawn on whether the Mackinnon report bore any similarity to the Smiddy report but he paid tribute to Mr Smiddy and his team for their work and said that the Mackinnon group, set up in October 2016, was able to draw on some of the earlier research.
“There’s a lot of very good work in the Smiddy report and the new advisory group met Alf Smiddy. They’ve taken an awful lot of research that went into that report and they’ve come back with a set of recommendations, but there’s a little bit more work to be done before their report is published.”
Mr Coveney said that he plans to give plenty of notification as to when the new report will be published and he pledged to notify the relevant parties, most notably Cork City Council and Cork County Council management as to its contents some hours before it is officially unveiled.
In January Mr Coveney acknowledged the changed political reality since the Smiddy report was published as the Fine Gael-led administration is reliant on agreement from Fianna Fáil whose leader, Micheál 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 – will need 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.
And he also acknowledged that the Mackinnon group, unlike the Smiddy group, was 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.