Meeting, Boundary Review Committee,
Council Chamber, City Hall
Cllr Kieran McCarthy
23 March 2015
Chairman, committee members,
You’re very welcome to our chamber this afternoon.
I think everyone in this room has a grá for Cork and we are all speaking from the same hymn sheet
I wish to bring four points to this significant debate.
(1) The ambitious city:
Firstly, my context in this beautiful city is one of conducting historical walking tours for just over 22 years, 16 years of a weekly heritage column in the Cork Independent and a number of books on this city and region. We are certainly blessed in terms of what this region has to offer the homemaker, business person and visitor.
There is a depth to its story – there is alot to learn from its story – it oozes ambition, vision and a will to succeed to whatever it puts its hand to.
Cork City is unique among other Irish cities in that it alone has experienced all phases of Irish urban development, from c.AD600 to the present day. The settlement at Cork began as a monastic centre in the seventh century, founded by St FinBarre. It served as a Viking port before the Anglo-Normans arrived and created a prosperous walled town; it grew through the influx of English colonists during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and suffered the political problems inherent in Irish society at that time;
It was altered significantly through Georgian and Victorian times when reclamation of its marshes became a priority, along with the construction of spacious streets and grand town houses; its quays, docks and warehouses exhibit the impact of the industrial revolution; and in the last one hundred years, Corkonians have witnessed both the growth of extensive suburbs and the rejuvenation of the inner city.
These development threads underpin this city, its depth of character, its cultural DNA needs to be protected and not diluted…the weight of history and its heritage needs to strengthened. The rest of the region has always looked inwards to the city for a myriad of reasons – business, economics, education, sport, artistic endeavours, transportation, processes of migration and emigration – the villages and towns around the region developed because of the offering this city and its estuary had to offer and not the other way around.
Distinctive values and meanings have built up over time in Cork. Personal and cultural identities are entwined with place-making in Cork. In Cork there are strong yearnings by citizens to protect place, to maintain place to aspire in place-making.
There is also an enormous cultural depth within the undulating topography of County Cork and its enormous geography, myriads of colourful town, villages and crossroads – it possesses an enormous 400km in length coastline. Throwing Cork City into this mix of place-making competitiveness with county settlements is not progressive for this city and region.
We are blessed with the Cork we have. It is enormous with so many inter-linked and webs of elements, all difficult to mind with two councils, no mind just the prospect of one over arching institution.
Changing the nature of what Cork is….affects the cultural DNA of us all in this region.
(2) Bottom-Up analysis:
That brings me to my second point, in this debate there also needs to be a bottom-up analysis – it shouldn’t be all be top down – the political spectrum dictating this region’s future. I would encourage continued consultation with the general public on the impact of this boundary review. This process should not be rushed. It should not become a highly political process.
Certainly, decisions should not be made on a whim of the concept of political efficiency. Both Cork City and County Councils have seen what efficiency has done in the last 3-4 years as the claws of cutbacks are consistently scratching at the eyes of ideas of ambition and potential in this region and elsewhere.
(3) Building a future for our city:
This leads me to my third point the need for a strong focus on the city’s future. Our executive gave you a detailed look at what this city has achieved under enormous recessional pressures. The city is consistently batting above its weight despite the lack of development of gateway targets by government and needs to stay focussed. The city is on top of its game and with further finance, beyond the property tax receipts has the potential to ignite its city centre strategy and its docklands area.
The City is on the verge of achieving great projects such as its Cork Docklands area and Cork City Centre Strategy- it has a vision – strategies for the branding, renewal and regeneration of Cork City Centre and constructing a new suburb and industrial hub in its Docklands. These projects construct a strong core and nationally counter balance the capital’s bias in urban development. These projects don’t fit into the box of political efficiency but are about forging a strong and secure future for Ireland’s second city. This city doesn’t need to be a pawn in the game of efficiency.
Indeed, I don’t see the boundary process as one of achieving efficiency but one of dilution – the question of merging Councils will lead to dilution. Cork’s future projects run the risk of competing with other important projects in County Cork’s enormous regions – the city runs the risk of dilution of improving city governance, the dilution of key urban infrastructure priorities, the dilution of social cohesion and the dilution of many more multi-complex webs of development strategies for our city. The cost savings would be minimal – No mind the dilution of services such as housing, roads, arts, wastewater, park management, heritage – the list is endless. The city’s collection of property tax is just about balancing, what we got through the local government fund last year versus what we got through the property tax this year. Going forward to compete, the city must attain more development levies to progress its various multifaceted projects and not be over bogged down in a game of economies of scale. As a council we left the word efficiency on the recessionary road about 3 years ago, we are now on a road of survival of the fittest.
(4) The Frankenstein Council:
That leads me to my fourth point – that in the quest for efficiency, what would be created is a Frankenstein of a council – a possible council of 86 heads from different backgrounds, parties and non-parties. Efficiency would not pervade the Council chamber but the very opposite.
An unworkable political battlefield if ever would be created. The reserved decision making process of the Council would grind to an almost halt on every issue.
Efficiency at the cold face of representation will be a longer process. Meetings will be longer, the emphasis on the county with its larger geography will be acute. Democratic representation would be imbalanced.
To conclude, I wish the committee to focus on my four points:
- Changing the nature of what Cork is….affects the cultural DNA of us all in this region.
- decisions should not be made on a whim of the concept of political efficiency.
- This city should not be a pawn in the game of efficiency but should be allowed to realise its ambition and vision.
- Efficiency will not pervade the Council chamber and its reserved functions but the very opposite.
Overall efficiency will become a chameleon of sorts, which will carve a route into the lives of every citizens in our great city and great county, not strengthening much but creating thinly layered foundations of an efficiency construct, promising much but one that doesn’t serve anyone effectively. Thank you for your time.