The chief executive of Galway County Council has rejected a proposed “land grab” which could see a number of key Galway towns transferred to the management of Galway City Council.
In his last council meeting as chief executive, Jim Cullen said on Monday that the proposed transfer of Barna, Oranmore, Claregalway and Moycullen to Galway city would make Galway County Council “unviable” and urged councillors to “strenuously resist” any attempt by the city to encroach further into the county.
Tensions have been simmering between Galway’s two local authorities in recent weeks, with elected members clashing over the future of Galway Airport, which is jointly owned by the two authorities, as well as long-awaited plans to develop a comprehensive park-and-ride strategy for Galway.
Galway City Council is set to debate a proposal to expand into the county at its forthcoming April meeting. This follows a motion put forward at last month’s city council meeting by Fianna Fáil councillor John Connolly, as well as recommendations for a “rethink” of the boundary by the city council chief executive, Brendan McGrath.
This forthcoming debate prompted angry scenes at Monday’s meeting of Galway County Council, with one councillor comparing it to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“I don’t know what they [Galway City Council] are trying to achieve. They can’t look after what they have. Every time there is a high tide, they have to put up an inflatable balloon around the Spanish Arch. They need to start looking after their own house first,” said Independent councillor Tomás Ó Curraoin.
“This is like the situation when Russia moved into Crimea,” he said.
Oranmore councillor Liam Carrol (Fianna Fáil) said the recent comments of some city councillors showed a lack of respect for their colleagues in the county.
“The message that I want to go out loud and clear from this meeting is for the city council: keep your hands to yourself,” he said.
“They have shown a total lack of respect and lack of courtesy by going out and talking in the press about this land grab of the most income-generating portion of Galway County Council.”
The proposed changes could see some of the county council’s most lucrative and most populous areas transferred to the city.
“We have been stunned at the sort of commentary that has been going on, without any sort of consultation with us,” said Independent councillor James Charity.
“I have referred to this as a land grab and I stand over that. They are not interested in the low population areas, they are only interested in the areas where the highest rates are paid and that have the highest number of votes.”
Addressing the meeting, Mr Cullen, who will be replaced as chief executive by Liam Conneally later this month, urged councillors to stand firm against the proposed expansions.
“I strongly and strenuously agree with the elected members on this issue,” he said.
“What has been suggested can’t happen, it would render the remainder of Galway County Council unviable. I can’t imagine what kind of compensation arrangements would have to be put in place if this came to pass. The level of compensation would render any proposed boundary alteration completely out of the question.”
An independent government review in 2015 recommended that Galway’s two local authorities be amalgamated into a greater Galway authority. However, the report also stated that many financial and staffing deficiencies in both local authorities would have to be rectified before they could be merged.