“Mere speculation” over South Kilkenny Boundary Review

John Mullane poses during a pre-All-Ireland semi-final press snap for a well-known bookmaker in Ferrybank last August, which dubbed the area "hurling's Gaza Strip".

South Kilkenny Councillors hope to see their “solid case” supported

Coverage of the Waterford/Kilkenny Boundary Review in last week’s Kilkenny People, which included one of the late Ian Paisley’s most infamous utterances on its front page, was touched upon at last Wednesday’s Piltown Municipal District meeting.

And despite what was alluded to in that coverage, which suggested that Housing Minister Simon Coveney will recommend a boundary realignment, this newspaper was told that same afternoon that Housing Minister Simon Coveney has not yet seen the report.

The source close to Minister Coveney added: “The reports regarding the outcome of the Independent Boundary Commission are premature and just speculation at this stage,” adding that the report “is expected to be published over the coming weeks”.

Responding to a question fielded by Councillor Fidelis Doherty (FG), Council Director of Roads Tim Butler described the re-emergence of the Review as an issue in print and online last week as “mere speculation more than anything else”.

Mr Butler told the meeting that the Boundary Review Committee is expected to publish its report and recommendation “early in the New Year”, adding that the Council needs to “await what it is in the report, which hopefully will be positive for the county”.

Cllr Pat Dunphy (FG), clearly riled up by this and other issues addressed at last Wednesday’s meeting held in Ferrybank, intimated that “there’s no smoke without fire,” adding that “this is going to be a major issue for us”.

Re-iterating the need for co-operation between local authorities on issues of mutual concern, Cllr Dunphy said that the concession of “even a small bit of land would be totally unacceptable…but we will have to get official word on it”.

Last week’s ‘People’ report, which referred to the process as “planned coup”, appears to have been heavily reliant on the comments of incensed Ferrybank resident and Fine Gael Deputy John Paul Phelan.

Deputy Phelan stated: “The Kilkenny people living in Ferrybank, Slieverue and Milepost are die hards who never miss a Kilkenny hurling match and are rooted in the rich history of what makes Kilkenny what it is. And to think that, a Fine Gael government could, with a swipe of a pen, makes us Waterford, is disgraceful.

Unless we as a county rise up and oppose this, we will be ripped apart by the greed of our neighbour. We need to man the barricades and keep them out.”

In a bizarre coincidence, just hours after this emotive story resurfaced, Rice Bridge suffered a mechanical fault during a bridge lift, which physically prevented motorists approaching from Sallypark and Ferrybank from entering Waterford!

Also speaking at last Wednesday’s meeting, Cllr Eamon Aylward (FF) stated that “we don’t know exactly what’s in the report” but added that “serious lobbying will need to be done with all members of the Oireachtas”.

Cllr Tomás Breathnach (Lab) said he had “heard absolutely nothing about this until last (Tuesday) night” but described the work he and his Council colleagues had put in during the submission stage as “superb”, that the support of the people of South Kilkenny was steadfast and that the area’s case “is rock solid”.

Cllr Melissa O’Neill (Ind), who stated that news reports weren’t always “100 per cent based on facts”, said the 20,000 submissions made by those opposed to a potential boundary change represented a powerful voice “which I hope will be heard”.

Municipal District Chairperson, Cllr Ger Frisby (FF) said that last week’s coverage had, at the very least, served to “refocus the mind” on the publication of the Review Committee’s findings.

He added: “Look, it’s not going to be our decision, it’s going to be the (Boundary) Commission’s decision, but we have to keep ourselves guarded against it…I am right in the middle of it and there’s a possibility that Slieverue could be cut down the middle by this”.

Cllr Frisby told the meeting that the printed source of renewed debate on the issue was “only speculation but we have to be prepared for what might be coming down the line…but we’ll wait and see what’s coming from the Review”.

In June 2015, the Boundary Review was established by then Environment Minister Alan Kelly, with committees also established to examine other reviews in Carlow, Athlone and Drogheda.

“The main rationale for boundary alteration is to bring the administrative jurisdictions into line with the current settlement and development position and the reviews I have announced are clearly warranted given the significant overspill of population in each of these cases into another county,” said Minister Kelly.

Minister Kelly’s then departmental colleague, former Waterford TD and current Senator Paudie Coffey (FG) has been labelled by many Kilkenny opponents of the Boundary Review as the “land grabber” in chief.

Senator Coffey, who has made no public comment on the matter and will not do so until the Committee publishes its report, has had no interaction of any kind with the Boundary Commission, this newspaper understands.

Deputy Phelan’s threat to leave Fine Gael should the Boundary Review go against the widely expressed view of South Kilkenny residents (as demonstrated by the level of public submissions from the area) may well prove nothing more than a good quote served up to one of his local newspapers.

The current government’s tenuous Dáil mandate would appear to be one of the most significant potential factors in weakening the case for any realignment of the boundary.

“Simon Coveney has yet to see the report.”

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