Friday, April 04, 2014

Why Shouldn't the Rest of the Country Have a Say About the Dublin Mayor?

First published in the Western People on Monday.

There is a vote taking place this Monday night that directly affects the people of every county in Ireland, but the vote will be held in Dublin alone. Three of the four Dublin local councils are voting on whether nor not a plebiscite should be held in the city to see if Dublin should have a Mayor with powers outside of the national system. Dublin City Council has already backed the proposal 50-0, with one abstention.

The argument is that a directly-elected Mayor with considerably enhanced powers would make Dublin, the capital city of Ireland, even more competitive in attracting foreign direct investment. If the capital is better off, we’re all better off.

But reader, is this true? Proposers of the Dublin Super-Mayor say that Dublin is in competition with other cities, rather than the rest of the country. But the funds fast-tracked into Dublin to power the Super-Mayoralty would not be coming from other cities, would they? No; they would be coming from the same place they’ve always come. If the IDA-Dublin is competing against the IDA-Rest-of-Ireland, who do you think is going to win?

In the past fifteen to twenty years, Dublin has leeched people from everywhere else on the island, all drained from the south, the east and the north, slowly but inevitably funneled into the capital. Is that good for Ireland? Is it even good for Dublin?

People will tell you that this is just the natural march of progress. That nobody put a gun to these people’s heads, they’ve come to Dublin of their own free wills and they’re getting on just fine, thank you very much. And that’s true. Nobody put a gun to anyone’s head to move to Dublin. But to describe Dublin’s exponential development as inevitable simply isn’t true.

When it comes to planning and building in this country, you can’t just do what you like. You have to fill out forms and pay fees and hope your plans fit in with the general plan. You can’t move to Dublin just because you want to; the Government planners are already expecting you. Your moving to Dublin was all part of a plan on their part.

Equally, when foreign companies come to Dublin to invest and set up shop, they have to be allowed to do so. The final choice will always be their own, of course, but is it too much to ask that the Government of the day should accept its responsibility to all of the country, and not just the capital?

A Government for all of the country could have noted the coming of the multi-nationals when the corporation tax exemption was introduced. And they could then have made plans that, as the companies came, some would be sent to Cork, and some to Limerick, and some to Galway, and so on. These regional centres would grow, and then satellites around those centres could grow too, in a marvellous rising tide that would lift all boats.

But that wasn’t what happened, was it? It was decided that the country, in the form of its people, could all be crammed into Dublin, into two-bed apartments with one parking space or else vast, sprawling, soulless estates on the edge of the city. If that left the migrants’ own native places deserted and empty, well, such is the price of progress.

The fact this movement of people and subsequent building boom all occurred at a time of widespread planning corruption in Dublin Corporation is, of course, entirely coincidental.

By the time the Government did turn its attentions to the regions, it was too late. The only attempt at decentralization was to split up Government Departments, which is like trying to lose weight by chopping off a limb. You lose weight alright, but you’ll have entirely missed the point of the exercise.

The multinationals are embedded in Dublin now, and are going nowhere. If there were to be placed around the country, the time was at the start. Right now, they exist in their own ecosystem. As well as our freckles and laughter and lovely red hair, one of the reasons that multinationals want to locate in Dublin is because of the other multinationals here already.

Twitter covet people working in Google and Facebook, Facebook covets the Twitter coders and so on. If you want someone to move from their current job to yours, having them move house as well is an extra fence to jump. The current situation, of the “best and brightest” all squirrelled into Dublin, suits the multinationals very well, thank you. As for the regions – well, that’s the Government’s problem, isn’t it?

The deep unhappiness in rural Ireland at the moment over pylons and windfarms might not be so much to do with the things themselves as with a ruling elite that seems at a greater and greater distance from ordinary people. The fact that the current Taoiseach is himself one of the most personable of men, and a Mayoman to boot, just adds to the confusion.

When the United States were founded, they built an entirely new capital, Washington DC, to make a new beginning for the new country. Brazil moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia in 1960, in part because they were concerned about over-population in Rio and under-population in the rest of country.

The USA and Brazil are considerably bigger than Ireland of course, but it is a pity that the founders of the state didn’t consider moving the capital. Looking back, the 1916 Generation were ill-prepared for winning the war, and never really knew what they were doing, other than trying to survive. And as such, to maintain the status quo was the easier option.

But the easier option isn’t always the best. Ireland has been ruled from Dublin since the early 13th Century, when Dublin Castle was built. Maybe breaking that lineage could have done something to create the new start that a new nation needed. But it didn’t happen, and still Dublin dominates the country. Does the capital city lead the nation, or feed off it?