Fears that Galway City will be ‘left behind’ by council merger

City Hall on College Road (left) and County Hall on Prospect Hill.

An expert group on local government reform has backed controversial proposals to merge Galway City and County Councils into one entity.

The recommendation for amalgamation of the local authorities “no later than 2021” requires ministerial and Oireachtas backing.

If approved, it would mean a combined merged new ‘Greater Galway Authority’ membership of 57 Councillors (18 city councillors and 39 county councillors).

Critics of the proposed merger claim Galway City would be ‘left behind’, as city representatives would be outnumbered by public representatives from rural towns and villages.

Junior Minister for Local Government, John Paul Phelan said he would bring the proposals to government in the coming days.

The Expert Advisory Group on Local Government Arrangements in Galway effectively endorses a 2015 report by a Galway Local Government Committee, which unanimously recommended the establishment of a new unified Galway authority rather than boundary alteration or retention of the status quo.

It concluded that a merger would maximise the potential of the region to maintain, secure, and grow a sustainable economic base into the future, combining the respective strengths of the two existing authorities in terms of resources, staff, and expertise.

The six-person expert group included City Council CE, Brendan McGrath and County Council Chief Executive, Kevin Kelly.

The group has said nothing should happen to the Councils this side of the 2019 local elections, but the amalgamation should happen no later than 2021.  However, it said a ministerial decision should be taken on the recommendations and “be legislated for as a matter of urgency, to provide certainty.”

The members elected in 2019 to each local authority should combine to form the membership of the unified Galway City and County Council on the date of amalgamation, with the first elections to the unified authority to be held in 2024.

The report with Minister Phelan said the recommended amalgamation must be preceded by addressing “noted deficiencies in both human and financial resources” highlighted by the group.

Minister Phelan said: “I will be bringing proposals to Government shortly arising from the report and dealing also with other aspects of local government structures and governance, including details of the legislation to provide for the alteration of the boundary between Cork City and County”.

Last week, before the merger was announced, City Councillors reiterated their concerns that the city would be swallowed up by the diverse needs of a much larger county, which was struggling financially.

Labour’s Niall McNelis said any merger would affect the rates base for the city, which was unique in Ireland due to the numbers of daily commuters and the presence of two large third level institutions coupled with the sheer size of the county.

Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) said councillors in Limerick, Waterford and Tipperary were reporting back that their amalgamations had not worked. He noted that Galway County Council did not fund sports pitches whereas the city had a proud history of providing top sporting facilities.

Fine Gael’s Frank Fahy said any proposal to support the arts in the city would be outvoted in favour of funding for roads in Portumna or Ballinasloe.

A motion by City Mayor Pearce Flannery was passed unanimously to invite Minister Phelan to meet with city councillors before a final decision was handed down.