Dáil Éireann - Volume 510 - 09 November, 1999

Adjournment Debate. - City Status for Sligo.

Mr. Perry: I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to raise this matter.

A city is described as a cathedral town and a seat of local government. However, there appears to be no formal mechanism or rationale for the determination of a city. While the Government will probably say Sligo can call itself a city, an official declaration by the Government to declare Sligo the millennium city will confer an official status on it.

The word “city” has a certain meaning for investors. It assumes a level of service and status and it becomes a place towards which the investment world reacts favourably. Sligo is placed strategically as a growth centre in the north-west corridor. In the interests of sustainable development, a vibrant Sligo must be part of any Government strategy for balanced regional and national growth. A decision of this nature would not require a special strategy. Sligo exerts a sphere of influence throughout a radius of 80 miles and is already an established regional service centre. Geographically, Sligo is already a recognised gateway and ESRI reports have stated that this status should be recognised and affirmed.

The long-term sustainability of the whole western region is at stake. How can areas like south Sligo, north Roscommon, north Mayo, south Donegal and Leitrim expect to attract investment or gain from employment spin-offs unless they can co-exist within a region serviced by a major growth node? Mobile international investment [552] will only locate in major growth centres where a combination of services is available, particularly hospital and educational services and retail and other amenities. These can only be provided to an acceptable level within a growth centre.

The current regionalisation of the country, prompted by the EU, provides a whole new context for development and planning where success will be judged on a regional basis. The performance of regions which dominated discussions in advance of the new national development plan will come under increased scrutiny with the creation of regional assemblies and regional programme monitoring committees. Success in creating greater regional balance will depend on the extent to which Departments and agencies of the State are able to focus their policies accurately on the needs of each region and county.

The requirement for a town to be called a city is that it be a seat of government or a cathedral town. Sligo is sometimes called a town and sometimes a city. This leads to confusion and the region falls between both stools. An official declaration of Sligo as a millennium city would have major significance for the entire area. The word city has a certain meaning for investors. It presumes a certain level of services and a status towards which the world reacts very favourably. The Fitzpatrick report established Sligo as a future growth centre. Even officials of Sligo Corporation are confused because in certain instances Sligo is called a town and in others a city. Recognition by Government that Sligo is a city would have considerable benefits for the whole region.

Mr. D. Wallace: I thank Deputy Perry for raising this matter. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, is unable to be in the House to respond and has asked me to do so on his behalf.

In local government terminology Sligo is a borough under the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act, 1840. Prior to that its corporation was titled as the Provost, Free Burgesses and Commonalty of the borough of Sligo. At the most recent census the population of the borough is recorded at about 17,800 with environs at about 700 which together represent about one third of the total population of the county.

Under current local government law the term county borough applies to the areas of the five centres which are commonly regarded as cities – Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford with populations ranging from about 42,000 to almost half a million. Each has its own local authority with a city council and an organisational, financial and staffing structure entirely separate from that of its county and is responsible for the full range of local authority services. For reasons of effectiveness and cost there are no proposals to create any additional such local authorities – [553] which in effect would mean the division of an existing local government county.

Terms in everyday use such as city, town, village or hamlet often reflect local history, tradition and usage rather than formal legal status, definition or distinction. Also for census purposes a range of territorial divisions and terms are used. Indeed, local practice has been that in the case of at least one urban centre – Kilkenny, which is not a county borough – the term “city” has for historical reasons been in use locally for many years.

A major local government Bill is currently being drafted which will, inter alia, provide a modern legislative basis for our local government system with modern terminology of meaning to the public. While it is not intended that this would interfere with current practices and tradition neither will it create additional county borough type authorities. The objective is to publish the Bill early in the new year and this will provide Deputies with ample opportunity to consider the whole question of local govenment terminology.