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 Header Item Water Services Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)
 Header Item Local Authority Boundaries Review: Motion [Private Members]

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 4

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  8 o’clock

Local Authority Boundaries Review: Motion [Private Members]

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I call Deputy Michael Collins to move the motion. He and his colleagues have 20 minutes between them.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins I move:

That Dáil Éireann

recognises that:

— there is an attempt by agencies in the private sector and State bodies to encroach on county boundaries;

— the National Planning Framework document seems to imply that changes in county boundaries are a distinct possibility;

— the reform of Cork City’s boundary is the most significant reform of local government structures in the history of the State;

— the National Planning Framework is put in place to ensure Ireland has long-term economic, environmental and social progress in all parts of the country, however, further recognises that this plan will do the opposite for rural areas;

— the economic imperative of enlargement would represent a substantial increase in commercial rates to fund development in Cork City Council at the expense of Cork County Council’s rural areas;

— an extension would also raise the population of Cork City which would improve its ranking, meanwhile decrease the population in the Cork County Council area;

— there are potential challenges in implementing the National Planning Framework, including geography, scale, historic administrative boundaries, administrative structures and European Union reporting requirements; and changes to administrative boundaries may not always consider the issues that a planning framework seeks to address;

— in relation to Cork City Council, affluent areas are being brought in under the new boundary, for example, the very small village of Killumney is included in the proposal, the most obvious reason being that Dell EMC is located in this area and would provide a lot of revenue through the collection of its commercial rates;

— groups and individuals are objecting to these new boundary proposals;

— a change to boundaries would be detrimental for Cork County Council, with an estimated loss of €80 million, which comprises of losses in rates and property taxes;

— residents and farmers living in the countryside would now be regarded as city dwellers;

— businesses in the Cork County Council areas would have to become Cork City Council ratepayers;

— the Cork Local Government Implementation Oversight Group has now commenced its work; the Group has, however, indicated that it is not in a position to accept any alternative proposal that would be regarded as running contrary to the proposed broad boundary adjustment as set out in the ‘Mackinnon Report’;

— county councils are already stretched, if they are to lose more revenue they will not be able to function;

— the election of five councillors from Cork City Council and five councillors from

Cork County Council, as well as independent persons to a board serving for five years to champion the project is too long a sitting period and also means that other elected 2409 representatives will be ineffective if the board members are the decision makers;

— the detail in the compensation package on how Cork City Council plans to pay back Cork County Council is vague with no definite plan on the loan repayment;

— such plans have caused a division between Cork City Council and Cork County Council;

— no proper consultation has taken place between Cork City Council and Cork County Council, and the public; and

— the amalgamation of areas results in a decrease in services and expenditure, and also creates excessive workload on officials and elected members; and

calls on the Government to:

— ensure that these boundaries, which are the essence of who we are as a people, are protected;

— seek definite answers to what is proposed;

— examine if it is necessary to reform governance structures so that necessary services can be delivered;

— assign an independent person from abroad to facilitate and oversee negotiations between both parties;

— examine the vague compensation package offered to Cork County Council;

— explain how a ten year compensation period could be considered a sufficient timeframe;

— provide immediate clarification on the plans to protect rural areas, as there is already limited funding and future funding would be non-existent;

— explain how the National Planning Framework could be beneficial for the people living in rural Ireland;

— explain how the National Planning Framework will regenerate rural Ireland;

— assess the impact such an implementation would have on local communities;

— explain if the authors have practical knowledge of how local government services are best delivered and if such a plan would work in reality; and

— explain if an assessment has been made on the implications on service delivery or financial and resource implications.

I am very happy to be able to propose this motion and I thank my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group for supporting me in doing so. A review commissioned by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government was published last April. The report of the Expert Advisory Group on Local Government Arrangements in Cork - the Mackinnon report - was tasked with looking at the various options for the future geography for local government in Cork.

  The report proposed that Cork City Council’s boundary be extended; this reform would be the one of the most significant reforms of local government structures in the history of the State. It would see the population of the city nearly double to 225,000. These changes, if implemented, would have a detrimental effect on Cork County Council areas that would now be moved into and considered as city council areas.

  Through this motion, I call on the Government not to accept this Mackinnon report into the draft national planning framework for a number of reasons. First, this change will give rise to an estimated loss of €80 million to Cork County Council through commercial rates and property taxes. Cork County Council’s funding is already very stretched and this loss will leave constituents of the county council further deprived of essential infrastructure, whether roads, services and even the reduced amount of public representatives for the respective areas.

  This is not a party political issue but there are considerable divisions within parties between those in favour of implementing this report and those against. This will cause a further urban-rural divide within our county councils when we should be working together. If this change was to go ahead, it would be considered as a Cork Brexit. Its consequences are not yet known and will not be fully known until it is too late. It is proposed that the county council will receive a compensation package from the city council in return for this change, but all suggestions of any possible loan repayment are far too vague to be accepted or even considered. It is sad to see that my local authority feels that the only way to negotiate any changes to this report is through the courts as the city council and the local government implementation oversight group have so far refused to accept any alternative reports or recommendations to the Mackinnon report.

  In recent years, rural Ireland has been hit time and again through loss of services, facilities and its general identity. Cork County Council and its residents have lost Garda stations, post offices, social welfare offices, local court services, local pubs and businesses, the list is endless. Rural towns and villages are struggling and, if implemented, this report would have an even more negative effect in these areas.

  Does the Government really want to be responsible for this? Is it not the case that in its programme for Government it promised to put in place "measures to revitalise all of Ireland so that the benefits are felt inside every doorstep and in every community."? How does the Minister think that accepting this boundary change would go in any way to reach or fulfil that promise? It is absurd that some people who have grown up and farmed in their rural areas will now be moved and considered as city dwellers. They are proud of their background and heritage and feel this proposal is a further attack on their livelihoods. Would this change even go as far as changing local GAA teams from county divisions into the city division?

  This might seem like a small change but it would have a huge impact on community spirit. I have been told by Cork people, both from my own constituency of Cork South-West and from the areas on the other side of the city who would be affected by the proposal, that they are not happy. This negativity is felt on both sides of the boundary. For instance, one Glanmire resident told me that she is now represented by the county council but will be thrown into and considered as a city council resident. She was extremely concerned for the future of her beloved Glanmire and raised the issue of businesses now being hit by increased commercial rates and insurance when they are already crippled by this industry. Not only would this have a detrimental effect on the local businesses in Glanmire and similar areas but the support that these businesses give to their local communities through sponsorship of community groups would also be diminished because more of their income will go towards paying increased rates that they cannot afford.

  These residents have been hit on numerous occasions by Government measures and these people feel that the Government does not like rural Ireland. Another concerned citizen that would be affected by the boundary changes was fearful that communities that receive contracts through Tús for maintenance of rural areas, effectively top-up grants for community groups, will no longer receive these contracts as their areas would no longer be considered rural areas, but rather urban areas.

  Will the Minister say if such funding and contracts would stop because of the Mackinnon report if it goes ahead? The same can be asked about the town and village renewal scheme under the rural development section in the programme for Government. Will the rural areas around Ovens, Carrigtwohill, Rathpeacon and Carrigrohane now be exempt from potential funding if they are considered urban or city residents?

  This is a "Yes" or "No" issue. Does the Government, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the other Independents want to see the Mackinnon report implemented in Cork or not? The amendments tabled by both the Government and Fianna Fáil are not clear. Do the rural Deputies from both parties support the implementation of the Mackinnon report or not?

  I urge all Members to remember that the Mackinnon report applies to County Cork at present, but similar approaches could follow in any other rural county in the future. The amendments tabled by Fianna Fáil and the Government support the implementation of the Mackinnon report through the back door, while Sinn Féin's amendment is blatantly supporting it.

  If Fianna Fáil was to make an amendment along the lines of the Bill proposed by its own Deputy, Eugene Murphy, which comes before the House this Thursday, and which seeks to have a plebiscite prior to any boundary changes, at least it would go some way towards giving democracy to the people of rural Ireland, something they feel they lost a long time ago. Proof of this was the abolition of town councils and the disbandment of community voluntary forums and local Leader groups which is now in disarray.

  This is why I believe the Mackinnon report belongs in the bin.

Deputy Michael Harty: Information on Michael Harty Zoom on Michael Harty I also speak in favour of this motion.

This is an issue which is not confined to Cork. It also relates to boundary changes in Waterford and Kilkenny regarding Ferrybank, Roscommon and Westmeath regarding Monksland, and also in Clare and Limerick. In the last case it proved a very contentious issue in 2011 when Limerick city proposed to annex a portion of south east Clare into Limerick city. A committee chaired by Denis Brosnan proposed to incorporate Shannon Banks, Westbury and the parts of Limerick University which lay on the Clare side of the river into Limerick city, including the parishes of Meelick, Parteen, Ardnacrusha and Clonlara.

Anyone familiar with Clare hurling will know that most of our senior teams which have been successful in recent years come from that area. I am sure people in those areas would not swap the saffron and blue for the green of Limerick, although I am originally from Limerick myself. These are the issues that are important to people when a boundary change is proposed and they are not to be underestimated.

Such was the opposition to this proposal that it was not politically possible to pursue it and the then Minister, Phil Hogan, decided not to act on the annexation proposal. A group called Clare Against the Boundary Change campaigned on the matter for several years and on one occasion had a rally attended by 10,000 people. That was democracy in action, when people successfully voted with their feet to oppose boundary changes. Recently the matter was proposed once again by a Sinn Féin councillor but I hope that will not happen as I had assumed the issue had been finally but to bed.

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