I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this very important matter. I acknowledge that the Minister for the Environment Community and Local Government has seen fit to come in to answer the debate.
Tonight I reiterate my opposition to a boundary extension into County Clare. There is no justifiable reason for Limerick City to extend into County Clare. There is no justifiable reason for County Clare to sacrifice a portion of our lands to resolve a problem which clearly does not exist. The simple fact is this proposal is unwarranted and would create more problems than it would solve. We in the Banner County are a very proud people. Indeed, I am a proud Clare man, born and bred. County Clare is steeped in history, heritage and tradition. If a boundary extension into County Clare were to be granted, it would rob people of their identity, of their link to where they are from, their very history and heritage.
The primary proposal put forward in the Limerick local government review is that there should be one local governance structure to manage Limerick city and Limerick county. The people of Clare have absolutely no problem with this proposal, but the people of Clare have a major issue with the plan to expand the Limerick city boundary into County Clare. We are told by the Limerick local government review group that its motivation to seek a boundary extension into County Clare is in order to create a critical mass of population which will in turn improve the prospects of attracting foreign direct investment.
This idea is fine in theory but is not grounded in reality. Changing a line on a map does not create a population. The people already exist and the critical mass already exists, but we simply live in different counties. Placing 3,000 Clare people into Limerick will not sort out our financial woes. However, it will create bad feeling, division, resentment and bitterness. It is very clear the people of Clare are very much opposed to a boundary extension. I applaud the efforts of the Clare against the Boundary Extension Committee under the chairmanship of Jim Gully. This group was formed in 1996 and took a survey at the time which resulted in 90% of residents living in Westbury, Shannon Banks, Meelick and Parteen expressing a deep desire to remain in County Clare under the jurisdiction of Clare County Council. In recent times Clare against the Boundary Extension Committee has organised very successful public demonstrations which have received massive support, including the support of every political party in the county.
If we are to pull ourselves out of the economic disaster zone in which our country finds itself, we need to work together. In the same way, there is no reason a better level of co-operation between the local authorities in County Clare, Limerick city and Limerick county cannot take place. This approach would result in a better quality of public service being delivered. There is no reason public services cannot be shared to a much greater extent. A joint effort between local authorities in Counties Clare and Limerick on the delivery of public services is a far better option than changing county boundaries to solve a problem that does not exist.
I acknowledge the forthright approach to this issue by the new Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, which is in deep contrast to the efforts of the former Minister, Mr. Gormley. In the short time the Minister, Deputy Hogan, has held his brief he has facilitated meetings with representatives from Limerick city, Limerick county and County Clare. As he moves towards a decision on the Limerick local government review group report I know the Minister will take on board the genuine and deeply held opposition in County Clare to any boundary change. I am appealing to the Minister to drop any of the proposals to grant a boundary extension from Limerick city into County Clare. The solution must be an insistence on a far greater level of co-operation between the local authorities of Counties Clare and Limerick which would not interfere in any way with county boundaries. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell the House when he expects to make a formal decision on the report.