The Real Capital should be really the Capital

Opinion piece by ERIC NOLAN

Eric Nolan.

For Ireland to succeed, we need our regional cities to grow twice as fast as Dublin. I have paraphrased, but that was the gist of the Taoiseach’s message in a November visit to Cork. It’s hard to fault the commentary. Even if it does come from the person in the most powerful political position in the country who should be engaging in big action as well as big thinking.

Dublin continues to grow in an uncontrolled way. The housing crisis is a clear sign that all is not well. Homeless figures continue to rise and the price of housing is already at a level that means home ownership is an impossible dream for many. Home ownership is ingrained in the Irish psyche and the removal of realistic prospects of home ownership has a very demoralising effect on many people. I find it interesting that most of the people who I’ve seen arguing against the need for home ownership are themselves home owners. It’s easy to argue for another way, as long as it’s for someone else.

Renting is no easier and more and more people are being forced into long commutes because they can only afford to live miles away. Traffic in and out of Dublin is a nightmare and getting worse. The M50 is often likened to a carpark and there seems to be no plans in place to relieve it. The most obvious solution, an outer orbital route, would cost a mind boggling amount and would only postpone the problem. In any case even if they started planning it now, the timescale involved means it would arrive far too late.

Without corrective action, the problems are only going to get worse. The ‘Ireland 2040’ document published in 2017 showed that half of Irelands population growth over the last two decades has centred on Dublin. There are now Dublin commuter towns in 11 counties. The report projected that without radical action, 75% of population growth and new homes will be clustered around Dublin by 2040. What will the homeless figures be then? How much of people’s lives will be spent sitting in traffic?

The government’s 2040 plan lays out plans to deal with this growth. These plans lay out how balanced regional growth can be facilitated, but it is less clear how higher levels of growth outside of Dublin can be stimulated. Dublin’s size and economic power acts like a huge magnet. Dublin generates 49% of national economic growth. This dwarfs London’s 32%.

Spreading future growth around the country will require a counterbalance to this magnet effect. New roads and local committees will not be nearly enough. The ‘Field of Dreams’ effect only works in movies. Building it won’t necessarily make them come.

Big problems often require radical solutions. We are in the mess we are in because successive governments have engaged in short term planning/thinking and have lacked the ability, inclination or courage to take radical action to shape the future of our Country. Effective Governing should incorporate big picture planning rather than just dealing with short term crisis after crisis. ‘Ireland 2040’ is a step in this direction but lacks a driver for regional growth.

In 2003 the then Fianna Fail government decided to take radical action of a sort. They decided to ‘decentralise’ government departments away from Dublin. This move is widely seen as a failure and it’s not hard to see why. The Houses of Oireachtas are the centre of our Government and simply moving lower levels of government away from Dublin was never going to be a game changer. The magnet of power and authority remained in Dublin.

They should have moved the Houses of Oireachtas. The case to do this is much stronger now. Our houses of parliament are a magnet in their own right. If we are serious about balancing national growth then we have to consider it. This is not an anti-Dublin suggestion. Dublin is at bursting point and is of such a scale that it would not be a fatal blow. Dublin will continue to grow. Moving the Capital would give Dublin a fighting chance of catching up on its growth and becoming a functioning city that can cater for its residents.

Think of the boost that the new Capital would receive. This new Capital would be a viable location for much of the new growth that is projected. Nearby cities and towns would benefit from proximity. Our Houses of Parliament and associated activities would be a magnet for growth to counteract the huge magnet that Dublin will continue to be. It would not be a panacea, but it would be a real step towards achieving more balanced regional growth.

I am fully aware that this would be a mammoth undertaking. While there are many example worldwide of Countries moving their Capital’s, this would be a truly radical move. But the growing problems Dublin is facing due to runaway growth, which is suffocating the rest of the country, demands radical steps. It is beyond time for those in charge to show leadership.

Choosing the new Capital would be no easy feat for tribal politicians. They say all politics is local. This is  certainly true for many of our politicians. I imagine party lines would get particularly blurred in this debate. Our supposedly national T.D.’s would most likely engage in populist campaigns to see their area chosen. The Kerry contingent in particular would likely come up with interesting arguments.

I think I can offer a solution to this. Those of us lucky enough to live in Cork already know that Cork is the real Capital anyway. We have a growing City, a thriving Port and an International Airport already. Maybe the real Capital should really be the Capital.

Eric Nolan is the Labour Party’s Local Election candidate for the Midleton Local Electoral Area. He is a father of three living in Midleton and work at Cork Airports Police and Fire Service. You can learn more on Facebook EricNolanLabour or Twitter @ericnolanlab .