BY JACKIE KEOGH
IF the expansion of the city boundary goes ahead it will be like ‘a Brexit for West Cork’, according to Independent Cllr Danny Collins.
With cross-party support, a public meeting was convened at the West Cork Hotel last Thursday night to discuss the proposals contained in the Mackinnon Report.
But the West Cork public representatives present expressed their disappointment that there were only about 50 members of the public at the meeting.
County Mayor Declan Hurley (Ind) said people should be warned that they are ‘sleepwalking’ their way into a situation that would see West Cork lose more than €50m a year in revenue from rates and local property tax.
He said the loss to the county would be as a result of losing areas of high development potential, and that the loss of revenue would have long-term implications when it comes to the County Council’s ability to invest in local projects.
Several speakers from the floor said Cork County Council was not communicating its message clearly: they said people didn’t understand what was being proposed.
Clonakilty Mayor John Loughnan suggested that having the City Council and the County Council engaged in a war of words was not the way forward. He suggested that the issue should be dealt with by way of mediation.
Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) presented a slideshow designed to clarify the situation. He began by explaining that the Smiddy report in 2015 had proposed a merger of Cork City and County Councils.
He said the County Council accepted the proposal, but the City Council objected and threatened a judicial review.
With that proposal firmly off the table, a new report, the Mackinnon Report, was announced with a pre-determined boundary that included Carrigtowhill, Blarney, Tower, Ballincollig, Ovens, Cork Airport, Douglas, Little Island, Togher, Frankfield, Grange, Glanmire and Rochestown.
Under the terms of the Mackinnon Report, compensation has been offered to the County Council in the region of €40m to €50m a year, for 10 years, but the councillors expressed a concern about the ability of the City Council to honour this commitment.
Other negative impacts, according to Cllr Murphy, is that the Local Area Plan for the Council would need to be revised; staffing transfers could prove problematic; and the inequality would be compounded over time.
Mr Murphy explained that Cork County Council came up with an alternative boundary, but this has been rejected.
He maintained that the next meeting between the chief executives of both Councils, and the Oversight Implementation Body, on Monday, September 4th would be critical.
Cllr Murphy also pointed out that Local Government Minister Eoghan Murphy could ultimately have the final say and he urged the people of Cork County to petition him and voice their concerns.
Cllr Joe Carroll (FF) said the 55 members of Cork County Council are unanimous in their opposition to the boundary as set out in the Mackinnon report. He said: ‘We were told to forget about negotiation. But if it happens, we here in West Cork will be an outback.’
Mayor Hurley agreed, saying: ‘West Cork will die a slow and painful death.’ He reminded people: ‘The West Cork railway closed March 31st 1961 and look at the effect that had?’
Former Sinn Féin town councillor, Donncha O Sé, said: ‘It seems to me like it is a case of divide and conquer. This is a money grab and a land grab.’
Cllr John O’Sullivan (FG) said he was disappointed with the crowd at the public meeting and warned: ‘This is being foisted on us at a rate of knots.’
Cllr O’Sullivan said he had always been in favour of a merger and cited Kerry as an example of how it developed its entire county as a single local authority.
‘If we don’t come together as a single unit,’ he said, ‘Limerick will become the development capital of the south.’
Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) said: ‘It is hard for the public to get their head around the proposal and the implications for West Cork because it is all happening very fast.’
He said towns like Ballincollig – that do not wish to be subsumed by the city – should be allowed conduct their own referendum on the issue.
Cllr Pat Murphy said the new boundary would distract from the real day-to-day running of the Council. And he said the Mackinnon Report ‘focuses on the City Council needs and offers no impact assessment on the County Council.’
Cllr Murphy told the people at the West Cork that the purpose of calling a public meeting was to enlist the help of local TDs, business groups and community groups to lobby the Minister.
A former town councillor, Donal McCarthy, also warned that some people within the new city boundary would one day ‘curse their luck that the city swallowed them up.’
Meanwhile, County Mayor Cllr Declan Hurley has commented on the excellent quality of life of Cork County residents. This was in response to the Lord Mayor’s recent assertion in his open letter to the citizens of Cork that somehow some Cork county residents would experience a better quality of life within a city boundary.
‘The Lord Mayor has wrongly stated that the County’s position was not backed up by facts and we have already addressed this. He has fallen foul of his own advice in relation to quality of life. What is abundantly clear from the above is that residents in county areas adjoining the city are highly satisfied with their lot in the county,’ said Cllr Hurley.