Galway city and county councils may cease to exist as separate entities and instead be merged into one local authority for the entire county under a major new review of local government arrangements.
The merger is one potential outcome from the review which was announced in Galway on Wednesday morning by the Minister for Environment and Local Government Alan Kelly. He also said the review would “address the long-standing anomaly of the outdated city boundary”.
This has led to Independent Galway West TD Noel Grelish to declare his opposition to any idea of a local authority merger or tampering with the city boundaries.
“Any such expansion of the city, it should be put to a vote of the people of those areas, would they like to become part of the city, let them decide, rather than the politicians,” he said.
Merging the councils has been mooted on occasion over the years, but never been given any serious consideration given that the size of both the county - the second largest in the country - and the city - the third largest in the State - have tended to argue for separate local authorities.
There is also a distinct sense of identity and independence between both local authorities, especially the Galway City Council which has been in existence, in various forms, since 1485 - meaning any merger into a larger county council would not go down well in some quarters, involving, as is likely, layoffs and amalgamation of various departments.
However the mergers of Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford city and county councils has shown that a real possibility now exists that Galway could go the same way.
Speaking in Galway during the announcement of the review, Minister Kelly said: “The ambition is to create a stronger Galway. The major urban centres are critical to the economic success of their wider regional hinterlands.”
Further comments by the Minister will lead some to conclude that he is in favour - or at least unopposed to - the idea of the city and county merging.
“Weaknesses due to divided governance in Limerick and Waterford have been addressed,” Minister Kelly said. “The review will examine the option of local authority unification. It is logical also to consider the option of unifying the city and county structures in Galway, not least because of the potential of a stronger Galway authority to reinforce the process of economic recovery and growth, not only in Galway but in the west generally.”
However the committee is expected to outline how to “maximise the capacity of the Galway metropolitan area” to act as a “strong and dynamic focus and generator of growth for the wider hinterland, and that of other urban and rural areas to contribute in that regard in the context of balanced development”.
It has also been told to examine the experience of previous local authority mergers before making its decision for Galway.
Such conclusions could also lead to recommendation that Galway retain a separate local authority. However Dep Grealish believes this is “the thin end of the wedge”.
“The Government will next try to amalgamate the city and county councils in Galway, like they have done elsewhere,” he said. “They’re trying to bring it in by stealth. I don’t think it would be a good idea to bring in Oranmore, Barna and Moycullen into the city. There are potential huge consequences for businesses in those areas too, with the possibility of rates increases.”
The committee appointed by Minister Kelly will be chaired by Galwegian Prof Eoin O’Sullivan, head of Trinity college’s school of social work and social policy. The other committee members are Hannah Kiely, Ned Gleeson, Michael O’Connor, and John Coyle.
The other major question the committee must tackle is the boundary of Galway city - which takes in more agricultural land than many other large urban areas in the State - as well as interim measures which should be taken in advance of any merger or change to the city boundary and the timescale for any change.
The report also has to outline supporting information, analysis, and rationale for any decision it reaches on these matters; the financial implications; “cost savings, efficiency, and effectiveness” in implementing any changes; how any changes can lead to
“effective, accountable representation, and governance”.
It must also ensure “that Galway city and county is served by viable and effective local government, including any arrangements considered necessary to strengthen local government and enhance the effectiveness
of democratic representation and accountability”.