Sunday 23 October 2016

Single council for Cork 'will help drive economic growth'

Published 12/09/2015 | 02:30

Former Beamish and Crawford boss Alf Smiddy
Former Beamish and Crawford boss Alf Smiddy

The chairman of an expert group that recommended the merging of Cork's two councils into one has said the new body will deliver better services for citizens and help drive economic development.

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Alf Smiddy, of the Cork Local Government Committee, has also hit out at a group of former Cork mayors opposing the merger, saying only a handful had made submissions during the review process.

The former managing director of Beamish and Crawford said the current system of separate councils for Cork City and Cork County was mired in bureaucracy, and so caught up in day-to-day issues it was unable to develop strategic economic plans.

A single, unitary body would result in the creation of a council that would become a "serious driving force" for the region, with 50 of the 86 elected councillors being responsible for the city and wider metropolitan area.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Smiddy said a dedicated chief executive for the greater Cork area would be responsible for delivering services to 300,000 people, and for promoting economic development.

"It's not working very well now, and the status quo is just not realistic," he said.

"One of the issues right now is it's more about day-to-day operational matters rather than strategic issues to take Cork forward. From the 100 submissions we received, there wasn't one that said retaining the status quo was the best option."

The merging of the city and county councils has been sharply criticised by a group of 18 former mayors, some business groups and planners.

There is also concern that two of the five-strong panel disagreed with the review group's findings, but Mr Smiddy insisted this showed the panel was independent and had not taken direction from Government.

Mr Smiddy says the creation of a single local authority will help position Cork as a "dynamic city region and an effective counter balance to the growth of Dublin".

"I believe the model we have developed for Cork is more than a merger - it creates a new and innovative local government structure for Cork.

"There would be an irresistible case for major devolution of powers from central government to what would be by far the largest unit of government within the state," he said.

Mr Smiddy feels that as people get a chance to examine and reflect on the details of the proposal, it will be well received.

"Our proposal provides the opportunity to break the logjam after 50 years of failed attempts to revise local government boundaries in Cork.

"One council for Cork will hugely strengthen the positioning, status and image of the Cork region globally, creating a new drive, energy and focus to attract foreign direct investment, substantially accelerate job creation and promote local development for the benefit of all citizens," he said.

The merger has been supported by businessman Leslie Buckley, who said it was a "major step in the right direction" and would help create a "stronger Cork brand", which would benefit the county in terms of "social and economic cohesion".

"I particularly welcome the notion that the merged entity would be promoting 'one Cork'," he added.

"I believe there is every reason that many of the global technology and social media enterprises currently located in Dublin would be attracted to a rejuvenated Cork, that has so much to offer projects in the foreign direct investment category.

"It appears that many of these companies are looking to expand their presence in Ireland. One of the clear benefits of a cohesive strategy for Cork would be the opportunity for job creation."

Mr Buckley, who is chairman of INM, was speaking in a personal capacity.

Irish Independent

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