A significant step in reviewing local government in Galway - that could see a merger between Galway city and county councils - has been taken with the completion of a report into various options to deliver high quality services in our area.
The five member committee, appointed by the Minister for Local Government, Alan Kelly, has spent six months meeting stakeholders, examining submissions, and looking at overseas examples based on several options - no change, a boundary extension to the city, radical shared services, and a full merger.
Crucially the committee has not finalised its views. It is now asking the citizens of Galway city and county for its opinions on some of the issues that have been raised in the report, in particular beliefs that the uniqueness of Galway city could be lost, that some parts of the county could be marginalised, and that local democratic representation would be weakened.
They are all serious concerns that demand continued thoughtful process. There is a strong sense that economic development is the key driver for the most radical option of a merger. The committee reports many positive results, but Galwegians must decide if economics should be the major motivating criteria or should it be local government efficiency, or should it be something more, something that perhaps cannot be quantified, that goes beyond the corporate to the citizens?
Some overseas reports note the “divisive” nature of amalgamations and the diminution of local democracy, while in Auckland, New Zealand, the merger of seven local authorities and one regional environmental authority into a single authority, covering a third of the population in New Zealand (mostly urban ), resulted in findings of a “unifying” benefit, and a coherent direction.
Interestingly the model did not work in the Kiwi capital Wellington. After listening to its residents, Wellington found a “lack of public support” and such plans were abandoned.
As always there are many arguments for and against each of the options. Proponents of greater sharing or a full merger believe Galway would be stronger - speaking with one voice not two, particularly encouraging businesses wishing to locate - on the other side some think it is the city that would be diluted of its status. The committee has completed the first part of its remit, now it is now up to the citizens of both city and county to do theirs