From top: Brendan Howlin, Enda Kenny, Joan Burton and Paschal Donohue announcing capital expenditure proposals at Hueston Station yesterday; Anne Marie McNally
Too much of our vital infrastructure is left to the electoral whims of politicians trying to secure themselves another term in office.
Anne-Maire McNally writes:
Yesterday saw the announcement of the Government’s capital expenditure plan. It’s not at all a coincidence that it comes during the run up to a General Election. Don’t be so cynical.
Usually these things run for 5 years – so the 2011 one was due to run to 2016 at which point the 2016 -2021 one could have been expected. Instead of that we’ve gotten it this year and we’ve gotten a 6 year plan instead of a 5 year plan. But again, don’t be so cynical. They wouldn’t be that obvious, would they? Or have they finally stopped pretending that they take Joe public for anything more than a disinterested fool?
Have a look in detail at the expenditure announced yesterday and you will find once you peel back the very loud and glossy headline notes that actually there is very little in the way of real investment for a country that’s trying to scrape its way back from the edge while its public services crumble around it.
A close examination of the plan will show you that next year’s capital spending will actually only increase by €200million while 2017 will only see a €250 million increase on what has already been committed.
To put those figures into context – this year alone the Minister for Health had to request an additional €600 million for the Health service as a supplementary budget on top of what had already been committed – yet still our health service lies in tatters. So €200 million extra for 2016 total capital expenditure is nothing to write home – or favourable headlines – about.
One of the most talked about elements of the plan is the construction of Metro North – a project first promised back in 2005 and due to be completed in 2012 – now lauded as a beacon of transport hope that will supposedly be completed by 2026 or 2027 with a cost of roughly €2.5 billion or thereabouts.
This comes in pretty much the same week they decided to scrap the real infrastructural game-changer – the DART Underground – having already spent €45 million on that particular project.
The DART Underground – with some reworking to take account of local concerns in the North Inner City-had the potential to truly transform Dublin into the international capital city that it deserves to be and the Metro North, while welcome, is only a poor cousin in terms of its ability to overhaul our transport system.
Therein lies the problem – far too much of our vital infrastructure is left to the electoral whims of politicians trying to secure themselves another term in office. There is an inherent lack of strategic vision that goes beyond auction politics and all we continue to do is kick the can down the road in a never–ending cycle.
So how do you do things differently? Well, for a start, you stop thinking in 5 year cycles, you stop thinking about what’s going to be popular or unpopular and what’s likely to get you a vote. As unlikely as it sounds coming from an aspiring politician, we have to start looking at decisions and assessing their 10/20/50 year impact.
We have to start with a vision of the type of society we would like to see in twenty years’ time and decide what decisions we can take now to help us get there. If, for example, we know we want Dublin and surrounding counties to be a core hub for international business and travel then we look at the DART Underground and recognise the value of the investment in the long-term.
Most mistakes are made when you react rather than plan. Auction politics is a series of reactions that have for decades resulted in mistake after mistake (e-voting anyone?) –and each mistake represents millions, nay billions, wasted while our public service infrastructure deteriorates year after year. Stop it, plan it, and avoid the mistakes. Simples.
Anne-Marie McNally is a political and media strategist working with Catherine Murphy TD and will be a candidate for the Social Democrats in the forthcoming General Election. Follow Anne-Marie on Twitter: @amomcnally