A majority of Galway county councillors are opposed to any merger of Galway's two local authorities, but also fear plans to merge the city and county councils are already "a fait accompli" that will be "forced upon us", regardless of their views.
Despite a majority of councillors arguing against The Report of the Galway Local Government Committee's call for the Galway City Council and Galway County Council to be merged into a new body, the Greater Galway Local Authority, a number of prominent councillors - Tom Welby, Tom McHugh, Peter Broderick, Michael Fahy, Pat Hynes, and James Charity - argued a merger should not be rejected out of hand.
The report, which was published at the end of last month, was commissioned by the controversial former environment minister Alan Kelly, and envisages a Greater Galway Local Authority by 2019.
The fear among councillors is that the city will dominate in any new arrangement to the detriment of the regions, especially those in the extreme east and west of the county, and that, regardless of the views and concerns of councillors, a merger will be imposed by current Environment Minister, Simon Coveney.
"It will be forced upon us," warned Peter Roche (FG ), while Seán Ó Tuairisg (FF ), Tom Healy (SF ), and Dermot Connolly (SF ), expressed concern that a merger wouldlead to "more centralisation", a point Seosamh Ó Cualáin (Ind ) echoed, adding that merging councils could lead to local government being reconstituted into "regional assemblies in the next 10 years".
There was also much criticism of the report's approach. Karey McHugh (Ind ) accused the report's authors of bias, saying they "knew what the answer was and wrote it around what they wanted to achieve". Her view was echoed by Joe Byrne (FG ) who said, the Government, "always wanted to amalgamate the councils so they came up with the answer first and then worked towards it."
Another major concern was that the city will come to dominate any merged council. Eileen Mannion (FG ) said amalgamation would "suck everything into the city". Peter Feeney (FG ) said Galway city would become a "spoilt child looking for it all and people in the periphery will get nothing". However Michael Fahy (Ind ) said a combined Galway authority would "have more influence", and as the new council would have a majority of county based representatives - he envisaged 21 county councillors to "six or seven" for the city - that this would ensure county needs would not be swamped by city demands.
Mayor Michael Connolly struck a different note, saying amalgamation was "not a fait accompli" as we are in a "different political climate", with Fine Gael in coalition with Independents in a government "propped up by Fianna Fáil". He described amalgamation as "an attack on local democracy" which will not result in "any benefit for the peripheral areas", and a newly merged council would also be "fighting for a smaller pot" of funding in a time when "local government everywhere is being starved for funding". He said, "We must fight back and resist."
Cllr Ó Tuairisg proposed that the proposal to merge the councils be rejected, that councillors make the Oireachtaqs members "aware of our position", and to "seek their support at Government level" for the retention of the two authorities. Although he acknowledged the final decision was "out of our hands", his motion was supported by 21 votes to five against and two abstentions.