The amalgamation of Galway's two local authorities is a "fait accompli", and despite overwhelming opposition, a small body of prominent county councillors are urging support - or at least openness - for the proposals, arguing it could result in a better run city and stronger, more dominant, county.
All 18 Galway city councillors, and a majority of county councillors, are opposed to the recommendation in the Government commissioned Report of the Galway Local Government Committee, which calls for the city and county councils to be merged into a new body, the Greater Galway Local Authority, by 2019.
At this week's Galway County Council meeting, councillors Tom McHugh, Tom Welby, Tim Broaderick, James Charity, and Michael Fahy, urged councillors to be open to the idea as the merger will take place regardless of any opposition. "The deal is done," Cllr Broderick said. "The minister will tell us there is an amalgamation coming down the line. Cllr Pat Hynes (Ind ) said the merger is a "fait accompli".
Many councillors feared that in any merger, Galway city would become "a black hole", sucking all funds and projects towards it at the expense of county areas, but Cllr Fahy (Ind ) said a combined Galway authority "will have more influence". As the new council would have a majority of county based councillors - he envisaged a scenario of 21 for the county to "six or seven" for the city - this would ensure county needs were not swamped by those of the city.
Cllr McHugh (FG ) suggested Galway city could be run more efficiently and with fewer bad tempered meetings if it was absorbed into the Greater Galway Local Authority. In what was stinging criticism of how city councillors conduct their meetings, Cllr McHugh said:
"Listening to the media reports, meetings of the Galway City Council are sometimes quite acrimonious, there's trading insults quite a bit, which is not the way to do business. It appears it's difficult to get through the agendas. It appears the Government is looking for the county council to take over the running of the city. The report seems to want that and we should consider it."
Cllr McHugh's rationale was described as an "interesting angle" by his party colleague Joe Byrne, but some county councillors appeared to feel the city's implacable opposition was argument enough for the county to consider amalgamation.
"The Galway City Council unanimously rejected amalgamation, so there must be something in it for us," Cllr Broderick (Ind ) told the meeting, a point echoed by Cllr Welby, who said, "If all city councillors are against it, there must be something in it." Both men also noted that amalgamation is a matter of when, not if.
Councillors eventually voted on a motion from Cllr Seán Ó Tuairisg (FF ) not to accept amalgamation and to "seek support" at Government level for the retention of the two authorities. However, Cllr Charity (Ind ) warned his colleagues to be "careful what message you send out" with that vote, as the current Environment Minister Simon Coveney "can ignore it and apply the extension of the city boundary instead, which none of us want". Cllr Charity noted that property tax charges in the county are c€90 per head, but only €81.50 in the city.
Cllr Ó Tuairisg's motion was supported by 21 votes to five against and two abstentions, although he acknowledged the final decision on amalgamation was "out of our hands".