The Tracks Of Our Tears

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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

31 thoughts on “The Tracks Of Our Tears

  1. Cian

    Catherine Murphy used to suggest a maglev train should be used due to low bridges on the maynooth line. She’s not the best with infrastructure…

    1. Norbet Cooper

      She’s right as regards Dart Underground being a game changer, It’s a important missing link between rail services South – City centre – North East, Metro North is just the worst limited transport option to the airport, Dart Underground emerging from the City centre at East Wall on to the upgraded Dublin Belfast line Airport corridor link diverging at Clongriffin would be faster, more flexible and beneficial for all of Ireland’s transport services.

  2. Conor

    Straight to the point Anne-Marie, a refreshing change compared to the PR waffle in the rest of the media.
    Dublin needs an elected Mayor with actual powers to implement projects like Dart Underground. Otherwise we will continually fall down the global competitive index.

    1. ReproBertie

      How can you read what she wrote, agree with it and then call for infrstructure decisions to be the remit of a new elected position?

      1. ahjayzis

        Dublin needs a TfL – a TfD if you will!

        But there is also an argument for an elected Mayor. Dublin infrastructural investment can’t be treated on a par with rural Ireland with guff like ‘balanced investment throughout the country’ – it’s horsepoo, they’re two different things.

        Decisions about investment in Dublin have to be taken in Dublin, the region that makes the money, by a body or leader not looking over his shoulder at Biddie down the Boreen raging that Dublin gets a Metro but Ballynahoor has a pothole. Once cities give the country their cut of the money via regional transfers, what it keeps should be spent how it likes.

        Infrastructure in Dublin makes the money for infrastructure in rural Ireland, they can’t be treated like six of one and half a dozen of the other.

        1. Medium Sized C

          Erm…..A QUANGO responsible for transport in the capital like?

          There was one.
          The Dublin Transport Office.
          It was supposed to become the Dublin Transport Authority (OH THE SEMANTICS!)
          but they got dissolved instead when the NTA was started due to the country being broke.

      2. Conor

        The reality is we’re not going to have some unelected autocrat. So an elected Mayor is the only option in my opinion. And ideally they wouldn’t have sole remit over projects, but a key infrastructure agency should be in place also – with no cutting back to save a few measly euro a lá Metro North.
        As mentioned, infrastructure decisions need to be made by Dubliners, not a politician who was raised down a boreen in west Kerry and has never set foot on a DART in their life.

        1. ReproBertie

          Dublin politicians are just as guilty of parish pump politics as any other politician. An elected official will be sure to look after their own when it comes to planning and changing plans that were put in by the previous office holder.

          We don’t need a politician. We need a body of experts who understand the city and public transport given responsibility for the planning and implementation of public transport in the city. We had a Dublin Transport Authority but after less than a year it was dissolved when the National Transport Authority was set up.

          1. ahjayzis

            It *needs* political oversight though. I favour the London model, set up a directly elected mayor accountable to a devolved assembly.

            Without oversight we’ll have another Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

            Political and technocratic need to balance each other, each on their own are wasteful and corrupt.

          2. ReproBertie

            I know what you’re saying but I just don’t see how it can work. If a politican has final say on something then they will use that power to their own benefit.

            A simple example: there was a proposal to build a national transport museum in the railyard of Mullingar train station. The finance was in place, everything was ready to go and all that was required was the minister’s signature. The minister in question was Athlone’s Mary O’Rourke who said on more than one occasion that she had “no objection” to signing off on the museum but never actually signed off as there was no vote in Mullingar for her. The museum was never built and the opportunity lost.

            I fully expect that a politican given power over the Dublin Transport Authority will use that power to ensure their area gets included in plans and preferential treatment irrespective of the merits of their interference.

          3. ahjayzis

            “Their area” will be Dublin as a whole though. Their electorate will be city-wide.

            I’m not saying they should have total control, an elected assembly could have a veto power and vice versa – but the ability to kick a transport agencies plans to An Bord Pleanala for appeal or something. There has to be a right balance.

            The alternative is the likes of John Tierney during his city manager days exercising untrammeled power in defiance of the wishes of an elected chamber, and judging by the incinerator debacle, bureaucrats are just as wasteful and pernicious as gombeen politicians.

            Also, if this is to happen, let’s ditch the outdated concept of county boundaries, Dublin and it’s stakeholers extends beyond the arbitrary borders established by the f*cking Normans. Give Celbridge, Leixlip, Ashbourne and Bray a vote.

          4. ReproBertie

            As Mayor their area is all of Dublin. As Mayor with aspirations for a Dáil seat their area is more restricted.

            Other than my misgivings about the parish pump gene in Irish politicians I’m in complete agreement with you.

          5. ahjayzis

            No one with executive authority over the capital city will want to be a silent backbencher in that miserable excuse for a parliament.

  3. Liam

    Not only is Metro North the poor cousin of DU, they’re not even proposing to start on MN until 2021 which is 2 elections away. It’s smoke and daggers people!

    1. Norbet Cooper

      One of the first proposals in the 1880’s to link Heuston to the other city centre stations was a embankment and viaduct line straight up through Temple Bar.

  4. Michael

    Criticisms of the Capital Plan include;

    The government isn’t engaged in long term planning vs the metro north won’t be ready for a very long time
    The government is trying to buy the election vs the government isn’t investing enough

    They can’t all be correct!

    1. Liam

      MN already has planning permission and apart from some cost-saving changes to the spec it has been fully designed. There’s no reason to wait 6 years to start building it.

  5. Yea, Ok

    DU is really the only way to go long term. Stockholm is slightly smaller than Dublin and has an underground system with 100 stations, most of which are clean, safe and well maintained. Imagine an underground system in Dublin with 100 stations, the whole city would be transformed.

  6. sqoid

    Where is this idea that Metro North is some poor cousin to Dart Underground coming from?

    So the Dart Underground links Pearse St to Heuston
    Whereas the current LUAS red line already links the Docklands, Connolly Station and Hueston Station

    Dart Underground would only serve to slightly shorten a journey already provided for and the only people who would even benefit from this would be people already served by the Southside DART services. (Which btw has a significant part of it’s catchment area occupied by the Irish Sea

    1. 3stella

      The advantages of DART underground link through the city to centre is connect regional and commuter heavy rail services South, North and North West (with the correct alignment at the Docklands), coupled with a upgraded line to the Airport, it has significantly more potential to be beneficial and reach larger catchment areas nationally then Metro North which in effect just a direct Luas extension to the Airport. A version of this can be built later. In terms of critical national infrastructure DART Underground/Airport is more important.

      Historically the problem with our inherited rail infrastructure in the capital is all the city terminus/lines were built by private companies who never had a desire to link each others passenger services. The decision on where terminus were sited was often based on financial cost of how far they could afford to build into the city centre, consequently the five former city terminus were miles away from each other serving their various regional catchments. The loop line was the only concession link in the city centre which was really driven as freight connecting line for national mails to and from England, fortunately history has shown this has become a invaluable piece of transport link infrastructure.

  7. jeanclaudetrichet

    What’s an ‘international capital city’ that apparently Dublin ‘deserves to be’?
    THIS IS GUFF.

  8. johnmcork

    Cork got some bikes to help it be the international mega city of the universe that it ‘deserves to be’

  9. Bonkers

    Anne Marie talks sense, not proceeding with DART Underground is a massive mistake, it would have connected all forms of transport in the city centre together for the first time ever.
    Metro North does have a function but the govt saying they will deliver it in 2027 is just an absolute joke. Plus they plan to build the stations with 60m long platforms instead of the 90m ones orginally planned. This is all to save €79m. No doubt when its built we’ll have to extend the platforms at huge extra costs and disruption all over again, all because the MInister doesn’t have any foresight.

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