Breen raises the Clare Boundary issue on the Dail Adjournment Debate and tells Environment Minister – No extension

October 2nd, 2010 - Pat Breen

This is a very serious issue in County Clare and the fact that it has cross-party support from Deputy Dooley and myself and from the other Oireachtas Members also is an indication of the strength of support it has in the county.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating me with this debate. The Limerick Local Government Authority, which was established by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to prepare a report into the most appropriate arrangements for local government for Limerick city and county, has recommended the setting up of a single authority to manage Limerick city and county. That is fine but, unfortunately, the report also proposes that this expanded authority would include parts of County Clare which runs from Larkins Cross into Limerick city, taking in the housing estates of Shannon Banks and Westbury.

Approximately 3,000 people currently live in that area south of east Clare. The committee under Mr. Brosnan concluded that change is necessary and is motivated solely by the need to create coherent areas which will facilitate more effective governance structures. I suggest that extending the remit of a new Limerick authority into sections of County Clare is misplaced and misguided.

This report is a Limerick solution to a Limerick problem. It is not a regional solution to a regional problem, which is what is required in this case. If we are to break the cycle of unemployment and fuel an economic recovery in our region, all of our energies must be focused on working together.

I want to make it clear on behalf of the people of County Clare, and I am disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, is not present, that we do not want a boundary change. The spirit of people in County Clare is best displayed in all aspects of the sporting and cultural life in our county. The Minister of State need only cast his mind back to Croke Park and 1995, when Clare hurlers bridged an 81 year gap to win the All-Ireland Hurling Final, to understand the importance and pride in County Clare and in the County Clare Jersey.
The people of County Clare have a deep sense of identifying and belonging to their county and that is no more evident than in the parishes of Meelick, Parteen, Ardnacrusha and Clonlara.

If the Minister starts to tamper with the Clare boundary where will it stop? Will Limerick demand to extend as far as Shannon Airport in a few years time?

I appeal to the Minister of State to give serious consideration to alternative proposals which would deliver greater co-operation between the local authorities in both counties, while at the same time respecting the wishes of the people of County Clare. The divide and conquer strategy has always failed so I appeal to the Minister of State to bin the proposal to extend the Limerick boundary into Clare.

The development of our region will be best served by respectful understanding of our differences. Working together in a spirit of co-operation is the only way forward to restore the fortunes of the region.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government asked me to convey his apologies on not being able to attend the Dáil tonight to the two Deputies who raised this very important matter from their point of view.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government established the Limerick local government committee in February of this year under Part V of the Local Government Act 1991 to prepare a report into the most appropriate arrangements for local government for the city and county of Limerick. The committee was specifically tasked with making recommendations for improved arrangements, to help inform Government decision making. Mr. Denis Brosnan chaired the committee. Mr. Brosnan is also chair of the mid-west task force, and his personal achievements in the business world lend additional weight to the independent perspective of the committee.
In noting the decline in particular of Limerick’s urban core, the high levels of unemployment and the significant deprivation, the committee concluded that the multiplicity of authorities in the area had led to unhelpful competition, policy fragmentation and a lack of coherence. The report, published earlier this month, contains the committee’s recommendations on the current structures of local government in Limerick. These are directed at renewing local government with the objective of addressing the social and economic difficulties in Limerick.
The committee’s principal recommendations include the incorporation of the contiguous urban areas of Limerick within an expanded city area. Such a city area would have a population of almost 100,000, including approximately five square kilometres of land with a population of approximately 3,000 which is currently part of Clare, and would, therefore, be the third largest city in the State. It also recommends the establishment of a new unified Limerick local authority to represent, manage and administer the city and county of Limerick, replacing Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council. The new authority would service a population of approximately 187,000 people.
The committee considered that there is a compelling case for the proposed change with regard to the hinterland of Limerick city in southern Clare. The committee pointed out that this change will not affect divisions used for purposes other than local government, for example, by sporting associations. There is a very proud sporting tradition in Clare and we in Cork fully appreciate that. All stakeholders should examine the report carefully and consider the recommendations it contains with a view to determining the benefits for the mid-west region as a whole. A strong city is a crucial component of a strong region.
It is significant that the business community in Limerick has called for the implementation of the report’s recommendations as soon as possible.
The Limerick Chamber of Commerce is unequivocal in its support. Shannon Development has also welcomed the report and has given all of the recommendations its strong support, stating that, “the long-term economic development prospects of the Shannon Region are best served by having Limerick City as a strong, vibrant metropolitan core fulfilling its potential as the economic driving force of the Region”. Greater local government coherence in Limerick is necessary for many reasons, including to help support regional development, improve the business environment and to play its role in the major regeneration efforts currently under way.
The strength of county identities and the attachment people have to their counties is acknowledged. The Minister notes that the committee took the position that the need to create coherent areas to facilitate more effective governance structures should not be overridden by such attachments, however strong.
It is important that we act on Limerick, and the Minister, Deputy Gormley, will soon bring proposals to Government for discussion with a view to early implementation of the Government’s decisions. In the meantime, pending Government consideration, comment by the Minister in any further detail on the report’s recommendations would be inappropriate, other than to observe that the detailed analysis presented in the committee’s report presents an extremely strong argument for action on the current structures of local government in Limerick.