By Kieran O’Mahony
CORK County Council has given the Minister for Local Government until next Monday to appoint a mediator in the ongoing boundary extension row, or it will instigate legal proceedings.
In a strongly-worded letter to Minister Eoghan Murphy this week, the Council said it will take legal proceedings to prevent an alteration to the county boundary, if a mediator is not appointed within seven days – from last Monday.
The local authority wants Minister Murphy to appoint an independent mediator to oversee negotiations on the boundary plans which, according to the Mackinnon Report, would see Cork county lose large areas such as Ovens, Ballincollig, Blarney and Cork Airport, to Cork City Council.
The County Council’s letter states that it believes ‘that a mediated solution could be achieved which would serve the common interests of all the people of Cork.’
The Council has given the Minister a deadline of seven days to agree to its request. Otherwise, the letter states, the Council will instruct its executive to ‘institute whatever legal proceedings are necessary to prevent the making of a Boundary Alteration Order.’
Councillors expressed annoyance at the recent decision by Minister Murphy to make the chair of the Oversight Group a ‘statutory officer’ – giving them the authority to complete a report to the Minister on the boundary alteration, which would remove any avenue to achieve a negotiated outcome.
Cllr Seamus McGrath, Fianna Fáil party leader in Cork County Council, said on Monday that the councillors needed to act quickly as the ‘window of opportunity to negotiate an agreement is closing rapidly’. Cllr McGrath also described the appointment of the chair of the Oversight Group, John O’Connor, as a statutory officer, as ‘unhelpful and provocative.’
‘We have been accommodating and this hasn’t been returned to us. To appoint an authorised officer is serious, and we need to respond robustly and a truly independent mediator should be appointed,’ said Cllr McGrath. ‘We, as a county, have to stand up and send a clear message to the Minister.’
Cllr Kevin Murphy (FG) said the Council had exhausted all avenues and pointed out that from the very start they had always sought mediation.
‘The appointment of John O’Connor as an authorised officer smacks of arrogance and a step in the wrong direction. I’m not happy with taking legal action, but it’s the last route to take and our TDs have a duty to seek mediation,’ said Cllr Murphy.
Cllr Des O’Grady (SF) said his party was also in favour of supporting a call for mediation, but added his party’s support for legal action was conditional.
‘We now have an appointment of a statutory officer who has dictatorial powers to extend the boundary. The process has changed now and time is running out,’ said Cllr O’Grady. Independent Councillor John Paul O’Shea said the Independent grouping in the chamber fully supported the letter to Minister Murphy.
‘He hasn’t listened to us and we have a duty to respond and to represent the people of County Cork,’ said Cllr O’Shea.
Cobh-based Cllr Cathal Rasmussen said that ‘now is the time to show strength and hopefully a mediator will be appointed.’
Cllr Joe Harris (SD) said ‘our hand has been forced in this situation and that it’s clear the whole thing has been manipulated.’
County Mayor Cllr Declan Hurley thanked all the councillors for their co-operation and support, and said ‘the goalposts have kept moving along the way.’
‘It’s reluctant that we have to send this letter to Minister Eoghan Murphy and our proposal of appointing a mediator is an alternative to legal action, and we have been more than accommodating on this issue,’ said Cllr Hurley.
‘We’re putting Minister Murphy on notice for the next seven days, or otherwise we will go down the legal route.’