Dublin for Ireland

Just over a month ago I wrote a post on this blog about the significance of Dublin as a city and a region. Of all the posts I have written here, this was the one that prompted the biggest off-line response. Several people contacted me by email to tell me that Dublin is just one city amongst many in Ireland, and that it had no claim to benefits from the state. Several who wrote did so in not very friendly terms; one told me I was a disgrace. So, as I am about to venture into the same treacherous and mine-strewn territory again, perhaps I can get my apologies in first, and assure everyone that I intend no harm to all those rural and small-town areas in Ireland. I am myself, as my name of course makes clear, a Westmeath man, and yet I believe that one of our key problems as a country is that we have no real sense of what we ought to be doing with our capital city.

There seems to me to be little doubt that, for Ireland’s future, Dublin and its adjoining regions will have to be a magnet for international investment in Ireland, the midwife for the births of new start-ups, the home of art and culture. Today’s investors and entrepreneurs are not looking around in Ireland for the perfect place for their call centre or their shoe factory. They are looking for places with a skilled population, a sense of the potential of entrepreneurship, and a cluster of companies and higher education institutions that are engaging in their areas of business. They often want to be close to the location of political decision-making. Dublin is the only real option for all these. No other place in Ireland has the critical mass.

And yet as a country we have spent the last decade or two (or more) talking down Dublin and talking up the value of investment distributed to the other regions in Ireland. Why is this? You can have your answer any time that you should meet any sample group of people, at a party, say, or a conference. If you ask them, virtually none of them will claim to be Dubliners; as Dublin has attracted so many from the provinces, they will all name ‘home’ as the place where they grew up or went to school; so many of Dublin’s citizens are ‘blow-ins’. What all this signals is that we, as a country, are carrying around with us this huge guilt brought on by the fact that Dublin has called the brightest of every generation in rural or small town Ireland to come to Dublin; Dublin has asset-stripped the provinces.

But then again, that’s what cities do all over the world. We need to stop treating Dublin as if the whole concept of it was just one almighty mistake. We need to acknowledge that Dublin is the only place large enough to be a magnet for investment and enterprise. And we need to give it strong support, and without wanting to beat about the bush, we need resources. Dublin must get more visible political leadership with people who are not shy about making a compelling case for the city. Dublin has three universities (with another only a short distance away), and four institutes of technology. It is the location for government and the headquarters of financial institutions. It has key international companies. It is the home of Ireland’s arts and culture.

In short, Dublin makes the case for most investors to choose Ireland, and it has the infrastructure and the community of support for indigenous start-ups. Dublin belongs not just to the Dubliners, it belongs to the whole country; and the whole country needs to give it support.

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15 Comments on “Dublin for Ireland”

  1. Cian Brennan Says:

    And what of those of us from the rest of the country? Are those of us not from Dublin merely to be left to rot?

    Startups and investment are very, very far from being an exclusively Dublin phenomenon. The other cities of the country have many advantages, and a government cannot decide to abandon over half of it’s population. Clusters around higher education can exist just as easily in Cork, Waterford, or Galway as they can in Dublin, and the incredible concentration of political power within the capital is something that we should be aiming to reduce, not to increase.

    • Cian, all parts of Ireland deserve support. The problem has been that resources have been denied to Dublin for some years, with an investment policy of anywhere-but-Dublin. In terms of international investment, we are competing globally with much larger urban centres. We need to make Dublin competitive. All of Ireland will benefit.

      In global terms, clusters are now seeking much larger places than Cork and Galway. Even Dublin is quite small. But it’s the biggest we’ve got.

      • cian Says:

        I must say, while to those in Dublin, the investment policy may have seemed anywhere but Dublin, to those of us outside, it’s seemed quite the opposite.

      • cianginty Says:

        No offence to him, but you’ll find the other Cian’s response is a typical one.

        Tax take from the Greater Dublin Area is spent else where. Dublin (and, to a lesser extent, other cities) support the rest of the country, not the other way around.

      • cianginty Says:

        In my attempt to be diplomatic, I didn’t really say what I set out to…

        It’s a typical response, but an incorrect one, and tax take from the Greater Dublin Area compared to the rest of the country backs this up.

        And I’m not saying the rest of the country should not be supported, but rather there is an attitude in the rest of the country that Dublin gets everything when that is far from the truth.

      • cian Says:

        Irrespective of the respective tax takes, you’ll find that the cost of services in the rest of the country is higher. People think Dublin gets everything, because, in terms of services rather than money spent, it *does* get everything.

        Not only that, but it’s pre-eminence in tax take is at least partly due to the concentration of 3rd level education (and particularly, of those given the university title) in the city, compared to elsewhere, which strips the rest of the country of much of its talent.

      • cianginty Says:

        The cost of services are cheaper in Dublin because of mass that the city creates, on the other hand the cost of property and rent is higher. This is typical of else where and is not confined to Ireland.

        For services, some of the most worst off areas in Ireland (at least according to an Irish Times article over 12 months ago) are the newer commuter towns in the Greater Dublin Area. By density, some of these commuter areas have less services (schools, health etc) than far more rural areas. Many of these areas don’t have public transport links even thought the density is there for commuter rail etc, leaving the residents more car dependent than most urban areas in Ireland which have shorter commutes.

        These areas have — as reported more recently — been some of the worst hit in job cuts since the start of the downturn.

        Dublin in general is far behind transport plans from more ten years ago. Even the current plans are less than what was planned back then.

        I’m not trying to say there are no problems else where, but just that the picture of Dublin vs the rest is quite different than many make out.

      • cianginty Says:

        Just a correction to the point of Dublin been cheaper for services, today’s Irish Times reports:

        “THE PRICE gap between Dublin and the rest of the country is narrowing but residents of the capital still pay 4.4 per cent more for their goods and services, according to the latest price comparison by the CSO.”


  2. Vincent Says:

    Everything you state is valid. Yes, Dublin is the only logical destination for investment, all things being equal. But Dublin has one major difficulty, the insane system of planning from which follows each and every other small problem. And when added together have created an area of almost unbelievable stress.
    Problems identified in the UK during the 1920 and solved, were repeated here with an abandon that one would have to say indicated a real dislike for the city if not the State. Where proven solutions in European cities ran up against rapacious traders looking for compo. And anyplace that took twenty years to build 50 miles of virgin road, only to be out of date long before it was complete has very real issues.
    There needs to be a area of Dublin Act. Something that will cut through much of the logjams. There is little point teasing some of these knots, that bloody bridge being one of them. And if some of the Defense of the State powers which can override constitutional issues on property were included, a nice little sword that could slice most of the knots.

  3. Vincent Says:

    And what insane dimwit thought putting a container port at the middle of a city was a good notion. Then to spend a fortune on a tunnel, just to compound the error.

    • cianginty Says:

      Dublin is historically a port city. So, the problem isn’t originally putting a container port in the city, the port was there long before standardised ISO shipping containers came into wide spread use after the 1970s.

      The port actually has previously moved (a bit) out of the city, the city just grew around it.

      If one thinks the port should not be there now, the problem is not that a container port is there but that a start wasn’t made on moving it to north Co Dublin a few years ago.

  4. Hugh Says:

    An astute and well-travelled director of a company that I used to work for in the mid-west once said to me: “We need about 10 million people living in this country – then we’d really be buzzing.” I didn’t fully understand what he meant at the time, but with some travelling of my own, and another few years under my belt, I think I know what he meant. With a population of 4 million, we don’t have an efficient market. We don’t generate enough taxes to invest adequately in infrastructure; we don’t have enough multinational service industries to provide effective competition; and we don’t have enough footfall on our high-streets to support the kind of diversity and choice that you get in provincial towns in many other developed countries. Ireland is a backwater as far in inward investment is concerned, and Dublin has become, by default, the best of a bad lot when it comes to decisions regarding where in Ireland to invest. One result, as you point out, has been asset-stripping of the provinces, but isn’t what you’re suggesting going to perpetuate this?

    I don’t agree, by the way, that infrastructure in Dublin is any better for indigenous start-ups than that of any other city, and you can’t have failed to notice that many “key international companies” have located outside Dublin.

    An artificial market requires artificial solutions. We shouldn’t allow “the provinces” to be denuded, and in today’s globalised economy, the requirement to be located physically in or near Dublin is no longer the over-riding consideration that it used to be. Investment is undoubtedly required, but there are equally convincing arguments to be made for improving infrastructure and the quality and capacity of Universities elsewhere. I wonder whether, given a different set of circumstances, you found yourself following in the footsteps of Dr. Ed Walsh, you might not now be championing investment in The Atlantic Corridor rather than Dublin.

  5. cormac Says:

    Perhaps the problem is that Dublin is the *only* region with critical mass/ population.I would like to see Ireland moving towards the Swiss or German model – with a number of largish cities attracting investment – rather the Russian Moscow model. Indeed, I think Ireland shares many of the capital-centric problems of Russia, without the excuse of a huge inhospitable landscape..

    • Sure, Cormac – that would be great in theory. But we don’t have the population for it. We don’t have enough people to create a Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Dortmund, Essen, Dresden, Stuttgart and Berlin. If we distributed ourselves that way, each place would be so small as to be just too insignificant.

  6. cormac Says:

    Sure – but there is a reason I mentioned Switzerland. How do Swiss manage to keep Bern, Basel etc thriving? same goes for the second and third cities of Denmark and Austria – cities with smallish populations comparable to Cork. I think we should be looking closely at those countries manage to avoid the excesses of centralisation..,

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