I originate from this part of the world. On the south side of the river is Waterford, a small Irish city with a very old and venerable history. On the north side, where I come from, is County Kilkenny. As you can see, one side of the city is relatively well developed, the other side not so much. It’s something of an urban planning nightmare – a city caught between two local authorities who, to put it mildly, are not great admirers of each other.
I was was watching a TV documentary last night that focused in on this particular issue. Waterford badly needs to expand its boundaries and as a result it would like to take over a large tract of South Kilkenny, mainly in my home parish of Slieverue.
The proposal has met with huge opposition from the residents and politicians of South Kilkenny. In 2005, about 10,000 people objected to the plans, but the pressure continues. The issue is very much one of what we Irish might call Tír Grá – love of the homeland. Kilkenny people could never see themselves as Waterford people. We support different GAA teams (hurling being something akin to a religion in Kilkenny), we have strong ties to other Kilkenny communities, and we’re even part of a different province to Waterford.
Nevertheless, there is a contradiction of sorts: Most South Kilkenny people work in Waterford, shop in Waterford and socialise in Waterford. (In truth, because the maternity hospitals are in Waterford, most South Kilkenny people were probably born in Waterford too – but let’s not go there). Waterford, in a sense, is the reason why they live in South Kilkenny in the first place. So, despite loving Kilkenny and wanting to remain part of Kilkenny, from an economic perspective Waterford is the centre of the world for most people in South Kilkenny. Kilkenny County Council has done little to develop the area of South Kilkenny, and the Dublin road is one of the worst in the state. You have to drive on it to believe how bad it is. Most South Kilkenny people owe Kilkenny County Council nothing, and despite people wanting to stay part of Kilkenny, they would be happy enough to benefit from Waterford Council services.
An Irish Solution to an Irish Problem
Isn’t the answer here obvious? Why can’t Waterford City Council accept that the ancient counties of Waterford and Kilkenny are what they are and best left alone, but that other solutions to the problem are possible? For instance, why not set up a Waterford Metropolitan Authority or some other quango to administer the entire region? Cork, for instance, has two local authorities: the City Council and the County Council – you don’t see people getting too upset when their boundaries are changed (actually Waterford south of the river has such an arrangement too). Powerful super-authorities are not new either: the National Roads Authority is one such example, and a successful one too, I might add. A super-authority would neatly bypass the issues associated with land attachment, concentrating instead on day-to-day administrative and developmental issues. All that would be required would be a bit of restructuring, a name change here, a rewriting of some documents there and a strong declaration stating that the areas of South Kilkenny under WMA control are still part of the ancient county of Kilkenny. Robert, as they say, would be your uncle. Ok, it’s probably a bit more complex than this, but you get the jist.
The remaining issue is more a legalistic one to be fought out between the two councils, and it concerns just one thing really: Moolah. Councils get revenue in the form of rates from local businesses and currently Kilkenny County Council receives income from the small number of businesses that exist in the South Kilkenny, revenue that presumably would go to Waterford once the super-authority was set up. And how do you solve issues like this? Anyone? Yes. With moolah. Find a price, negotiate, pay them off. Everyone is happy.
Similar inter-county issues exist elsewhere in the country and, I’m sure, throughout the world. Limerick City straddles the county of Clare and Athlone (in County Westmeath) abuts County Roscommon. The City of Derry is bordered on three of its four sides by the County of Donegal, which not only is another county, it’s in another state altogether! Can we not learn a bit more about how best to deal with such problems and move on?