For the Mid-West to function properly and achieve its largely unfulfilled economic potential, having a strong and thriving City at its core is an absolute imperative. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons set out in Denis Brosnan’s ‘Renewing Local Government in Limerick’ report, Limerick City does not fulfil that role today and, critically, at a time of such need in terms of our economy.

The recommendations of the Limerick Local Government committee (LGC), chaired by Denis Brosnan, aim at securing a brighter and better future for the entire Mid-West Region but only on the basis that it has a dynamic city as its engine room. As the capital of the Mid-West region, Limerick’s performance impacts on us all, whether you live in the County of Limerick, Clare, Tipperary or, indeed, Limerick City itself.

Implementing the well grounded recommendations of Denis Brosnan’s report is our only chance to start addressing the current shortfalls in the city and region. They give our region, and Limerick City, the best hope to fully realise our so far considerable but sadly unfulfilled potential. Implementation of them is, undoubtedly, the keystone to creating a more successful and sustainable future for all of us and generations to come.

Critically, our understanding at the moment is that the Government is only considering two options
1) Implementing in full the recommendations of the Local Government Committee
2)  Keeping the status quo

Government focus at present is on reducing the number of local authorities and achieving efficiencies.  Simply changing the size of local authorities without reducing the numbers of local authorities is not on the government agenda. It is vital, therefore, that we all understand that the option of just extending the city boundary and maintaining Limerick City and County as two separate local authorities is not an option being considered by Government. This would mean Limerick County would have an approximate population of only 80,000, way too small to justify a separate local authority, not least due to all the expensive duplication of functions and services involved estimated by the Denis Brosnan Committee to be Euro 20M per annum.

Therefore, with no ‘half-way’ house as an option, we revert to the two alternatives outlined above. The latter (keeping the status quo) simply is not an option! And that’s why we are asking you to, firstly, consider exactly why it is essential that we adopt the report (we will help you below with some of the reasons why there is no real alternative). Beyond that – and in confidence  your good judgement will, like ours, be that implementing the Brosnan Report is an imperative for this city and region – we would ask that you add your voice to our “Strong City and Region” campaign and sign our petition, which we will present to Government in a few weeks time, ahead of their decision on this critical issue.

There is considerable divided opinion in relation to the recommendations set out by Denis Brosnan. We accept there are deep sensitivities and loyalties involved but we emphasise that this is not about taking from Clare so that Limerick can be better. This is not about Limerick staking claim to another county’s domain. It is about bringing us closer together, for all our good. It is the only way that the entire Mid-West and Limerick city can prosper as without this, we will continue to fail.

We believe this report delivers what is best for the Region and Limerick. It also acknowledges the cost savings that are required but ones that can be made without any diminution of service. Ultimately, the implementation of this report will re-establish Limerick City as the 3rd largest city in the country and transform it into a vibrant dynamo for the entire region.

If you don’t take my word for the necessity for collective strength, look no further than US President Barack Obama. In June 2008, at a speech before a US conference of Mayors, the then President elect Obama said:
“We need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution. Because strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America.”

Below I will outline exactly why this is not just a case of one city’s battle to do better for itself but to do better for the region. I have stuck to the facts. I look forward to your comments and an open and honest debate about the issues.

1) An expanded Limerick City Area

What this will result in
• A population which reflects the true metropolitan/urban area of Limerick city. This will be of benefit to all of Limerick and the greater mid-West Region. Strong cities make strong regions!
• Reinstate our position as Ireland’s third city
• Reinforce our position as a national gateway
• Improve our attractiveness for investment and jobs because:
o It will improve our competitiveness from a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) perspective. One of the key research points for any multi-national looking at locating operations in Ireland, or elsewhere, is the population base/availability of workforce (graduate and otherwise). Typically, multi-nationals look to the largest cities and towns in a region. At present, Limerick only shows 59,000 population but with the realignment, it will show 100,000. This will significantly enhance our FDI potential
o Currently Eurostat figures show Limerick as having the lowest Employment/Population (of working age) Ratio of any Irish City (Galway, Cork, Waterford and Dublin) and our proportion of population educated to tertiary level is below the national average.
o We will have a larger urban population and therefore labour force
o We will have a larger, better functioning urban core
o It will allow a vision & master plan for the entire area of Limerick to be developed
o Limerick, as the Mid-West’s capital, will no longer have the highest unemployment rate, lowest labour force participation rate or highest social housing ratio in Ireland

What this will not result in
• This will not result in split focus between Limerick City and Limerick County to the detriment of one. The development and economic growth, as well as the provision of local government services to the entire Limerick area, both urban and rural, will remain the sole focus of the new authority

• This is not about land grabbing by Limerick into Clare:
o The areas in Co. Clare that are to be included in Limerick city are included only because they are part of the urban spread of Limerick city
o Limerick city already provides local government services to these areas (eg. water & sewage)
o Residents in these areas in Co. Clare already vote in the Limerick East Dáil electoral constituency
o They also already vote in the South Constituency for MEP elections.
o It will in no way infringe on their county allegiance or affiliation – e.g. they will play for Clare in the GAA parish system or for their county should they be selected
o Residents in these areas are affected and impacted by decisions made by Limerick’s local governance. The realigning of the boundary will ensure that these people are given a representative voice on Limerick local issues
o The recommendations are about creating a stronger Limerick city which will be to the benefit of the entire region

2) A New Limerick Authority

What this will result in
• The abolition of the current complex governance system that exists in Limerick with three local authorities plus the regeneration agency all operating within a small geographic area
• The report says that it is “extremely important to recognise an enlarged distinct city within the new Limerick authority” … as well as recognising “the importance of the historical aspects of civic life and preserve those elements of the heritage and traditions of the City”. The Chamber fully endorses these recommendations.
• Cost savings
o For example streamlining of management structure, resulting in one Limerick City & County manager, not one for the county and one for the city.
o Eventual savings estimated at €20 million per annum
• Harmonisation of commercial rates between Limerick city and county & ultimately a reduction in commercial rates
• An overall vision, strategy & master plan for Limerick
• Cooperation & coordination in planning
• Will eradicate duplication of services & associated costs.
• Will allow economies of scale.
• Will improve accountability of elected representatives & council management.
• Will cease competition between Limerick City Council & Limerick County Council.
• It will stop disjointed planning and policies between city & county.

What this will not result in
• It will not increase commercial rates for businesses currently located in County Limerick or Clare.
• It will not reduce the quantity or quality of front line services to the community and people of Limerick
• It will not eradicate our city or its charter. There is no mention of this in any part of the recommendations. In fact the report aims at strengthening, not weakening, the city
• It will not reduce the focus on city centre regeneration in any way. In contrast, with greater cooperation & coordination a greater focus can be placed on city which will be to the benefit of all Limerick people. There will also be an increase in resources available to focus on city centre regeneration
3) Elected Membership

What this will result in
• A reduction in the number of elected representatives
o Unlike TD’s there is no nationally defined ratio of population to elected local councillors.
o We currently have 17 councillors in Limerick City for a population of 59,770 (ratio of 1:3,516)
o Nationally county/city councillor representation ratio’s range from 1:1,318 in Leitrim to 1 councillor per 10,000 people in Fingal. Kildare county council administers an area of 187,000 people and has 25 elected representatives.
o The new Limerick authority will administer an area with a combined population of 185,000
o We currently have 28 councillors in County Limerick for a population of 124,265 (ratio of 1:4,438)
• The number of councillors per local authority is set out in the Local Government Act 2001. New legislation will need to be enacted to change the current structures of Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council and introduce a new ratio of councillors per person in the area for the new Limerick City and County authority
• Improved representation. Currently those living in the suburbs of the city have no representative voice on city council. This will no longer be the case.
• Reduced costs for tax payers and commercial rate payers who ultimately pay the wages of councillors.

What this will not result in
• It will not reduce people’s public representation. The number of new elected representatives will be in accordance with the population of the new Limerick City & County authority. The number of publicly elected officials will be reduced.  However every resident of Limerick will still have an elected representative for their electoral division which will be more reflective of the urban/ rural divide.

4) Regeneration

What this will result in
• The Regeneration Agencies will ultimately operate under the auspices of the new Limerick City & County Authority
o The Regeneration Agencies have been established as independent entities to address problems of social exclusion & improving the quality of life in priority areas in Limerick city.  Their mandate to eliminate social exclusion can only be enhanced by being part of a Greater Limerick master plan under one authority, all working to the same end result – a vibrant inclusive and dynamic city and region. The report suggests that this be incorporated into the new Limerick City & County Authority. The blueprint for this is already established in the Ballymun Regeneration Agencies.

What this will not result in
• It will not reduce the focus or expertise on regeneration. Regeneration will remain a priority.

5) Leadership

What this will result in
• One newly appointed Mayor for Limerick City and Country appointed for a 5 year term (resulting in the current posts of the Mayor for Limerick City and the Cathaoirleach for Limerick County being removed)
o This mayor will be a figurehead/ leader to champion and represent Limerick and the greater Mid-West region with commercial & development organisations nationally & internationally but with a mandate to ensure continuity of implementing policies over the full 5 year term.
• Greater continuity in policies and role of Mayor.
o The template for this in Ireland is about to be introduced in the Greater Dublin Metropolitan Area & such a system effectively operates across the globe – Johnson in London, Bloomberg in New York, Schwarzenegger for California.

What this will not result in
• Although there will no longer be two council officials elected into the separate roles of Mayor for the city and Cathaoirleach for the county, the newly appointed Mayor for Limerick will have far greater responsibility to be a figurehead and public representative for the people of Limerick as the current holders of the two positions. Indeed, if anything the increased term of office will ensure that the Mayor can collectively market the region better and raise the bar, therefore, for more ambitious targets for Limerick during the term of office than under the current system
In summary,  we believe that the government is only considering two options, i.e. to either (a)  maintain the status quo involving no change in the size or responsibility of either local authority or (b) to adopt the recommendations of Local Government Committee under Denis Brosnan. Maintaining the status quo is not a realistic option for our city and region. Everyone I have asked agrees wholeheartedly on this. And yes, the timing of implementing a decision is also vital.  It needs to be implemented immediately and not to be tied up with bureaucratic delays. Whereas implementing the recommendations of the Local Government Committee under Denis Brosnan may only give everyone 90% of what they would like to see, it will be such a dramatic improvement on the status quo, that we owe it to our future generations to accept the leadership being offered to us and to embrace it collectively for the best interests of our region and our city. Let the debate commence…..

or please go to our petition website and express your views there