By Robert Geoghegan
Is it time we give Fine Gael, and the rest of the government, a break and actually let them get on with running the country?
There needs to be a recognition that Fine Gael didn’t create the financial crisis that crippled the country in 2008, they inherited it in 2011 and Got Ireland Working… to paraphrase their 2011 manifesto.
Ireland got working and slowly, its economy was lifted out of recession due to austerity measures: the introduction of the Universal Social Charge (USC), the rollback on goods and services and the attempt to introduce “water charges”. Consequently, voters were not entirely happy with Fine Gael and the “water charges,” which became a point of contention in 2014.
Enough was enough.
Even though the implementation of charges were rolled back, we saw that in the 2016 election the message was sent loud, perhaps not clear, that people wanted change, voting in a rainbow coalition made up of independents and the confidence and supplydeal with Fianna Fail. Leaving the fractious left to whimper and fight amongst themselves in the corner of their own choosing.
Distrust lingered and was felt by the sting of rising rents, hospital queues and a homeless crisis that has only exacerbated since the collapse of the country’s economy.
It almost seems like Ireland is bursting at the seams as the population grows. There always seems to be a push back on anything the government wants to implement: from Bus Connect, to National Broadband, to the children’s hospital.
“As the population grows, so does the need to commute to work. Workers commuting has risen by 11%, with those who commute by car up by 8% and those using public transport up 21%”
Of course, it is understandable that people have reservations when the Government trys to implement anything, people saw the damage that can be inflicted when those pulling the purse strings are not fiscally prudent.
Malthusian theory of growth
Malthusian’s theory dealt with exponential growth and its effect on food supply. In a more contemporary setting, it could be applied to population growth and commuting. The population of Ireland rose by 64,500 in the past year, with 4.92 million people now living in the country according to the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO). With an estimated 1.4 million people now living in Dublin – accounting for 28.4% of the total population – Ireland’s population is forecast to increase by almost one million people to 5.75 million by 2040.
And therein lies a problem.
As the population grows, so does the need to commute to work. Workers commuting has risen by 11%, with those who commute by car up by 8% and those using public transport up 21%, according to the CSO. With that increase there needs to be a recognition that something radical needs to be done about Ireland’s infrastructure.
Throughout 2015, Ireland’s road network saw a steady rise in general traffic volumes which saw a return of severe traffic congestion at peak times. Ireland has a radial motorway network extending out of Dublin that is on a par with those in Europe. Investment in roads has been targeted at upgrading roads where there is the highest demand and this has resulted in Ireland’s motorways being able to meet demand, apart from the M50, which is currently carrying 29% more traffic since its upgrade in 2010.
Does change begin with Bus Connect?
In 2018, the CEO of the National Transport Authority (NTA), Anne Graham, said that the city will slowly “grind to a halt”. Ms Graham was talking about the need for a radical NTA move to shorten bus times and to introduce Bus Connects. This would be done by a compulsory purchase order of gardens, the removal of parking spots, and the removal of trees, a fair point of contention for the implementation of new bus corridors.
If you stand at a bus stop on College Green long enough, you begin to see that the current system is not working. Buses are at a standstill, which in turn causes traffic and delays in services.
Those who say there needs to be a Dutch-style implementation of public transport, to make sure it is pedestrian and cyclist friendly, need to look at the current infrastructure and recognise that such a system is currently infeasible in Ireland. The argument for a cyclist-friendly city is moot, when there is a point of contention with the necessity to widen roads.
“People must accept that there is a need for new infrastructure to be put in place”
Speaking to Labour Party Councillor Marie Sherlock on the Cairn development in Glasnevin, one area that has garnered an outcry about the possibility of trees being felled, Cllr. Sherlock spoke about what she describes as a: “city wide issue of not putting in traffic plans when it comes to any of the major construction projects.”
If Bus Connects works, this could lead to a change in cycling throughout Dublin City, and hopefully it will lead to an upgrade to meet the demands of the growing population on Irish Rail too.
Cllr. Sherlock said, in regards to Bus Connect, that they [Bus Connect] will go ahead with: “one of their proposed original proposals… keep the trees but close the road to cars for a period of time…allowing pedestrians and cars to get out of the city faster.”
At Dublin Airport, there was a push back against another runway with people not recognising that new runways will help to increase tourist numbers coming into Ireland, something that is good for the economy of Ireland. An argument perhaps, of the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?
People must accept that there is a need for new infrastructure to be put in place. Infrastructure, right now, seems like it does more harm than good. However, in the long run there will come a time when the airport needs a new runway, the roads need to be widened, faster internet connection is required and hospitals need to be built. So why not now?
Infrastructure is the cornerstone of modern society and this dependence will continue to increase in the coming decades.
What seems like the greatest harm now might reduce the greatest harm later.