Micheál Martin wants to revive regional move

The plan to decentralise government departments should be revisited, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has suggested.

Calling on the Government to “lead the way”, Mr Martin said the younger generation is “disillusioned” by the fact that they are forced to move to Dublin for work, where they are crippled by high rents and insurance costs.

Mr Martin believes the abandoned practice of moving government departments and State bodies out of the capital to regional towns and cities should be revived.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Martin said: “Something has to happen, because there is a migration of young, talented people to the east coast and to Dublin. That will always happen, but it’s excessive at the moment and the quality of life for those young people isn’t going to be great because their capacity to rent is limited, their capacity to buy a house is nearly non-existent, they have huge commuting costs and commuting times, whereas there is huge potential in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Galway to change that perspective.”

Decentralisation, the brainchild of former Fianna Fáil finance minister Charlie McCreevy, was built around ambitions to move 10,300 Dublin-based public servants to 53 locations outside the capital by 2007.

While a number of new public service and government department offices were built and some staff moved to regional towns, mass decentralisation was quickly abandoned.

However, Mr Martin insisted the original plan did not fail. He said there were two phases of decentralisation, the original case-by-case system which worked and the McCreevy plan which, he admitted, was too large and not a success.

Around the country right now you have places like Manorhamilton [Co Leitrim] with State offices that, if you didn’t have, you would have very little apart from agriculture and tourism in those towns, so that worked.

Citing Mahon, in Cork, he said public servants and State bodies could be moved out of the capital on a case-by-case basis, which would act as a “catalyst” for the development of rural and regional towns.

“I remember when the CSO went to Mahon, Project Management came down as a private company as well, and suddenly look what you have there,” said Mr Martin. “The CSO was the first down there; you now have all the electronic companies, there is a private hospital there. So it took someone to lead and in this case it was the State that led the way.

I don’t believe in mass decentralisation, but certainly there are some very good examples. If you go around the west of Ireland, in Sligo the Department of Social Welfare is there.

“It became a bad word but it did work in certain niche areas, not in a blanket decentralisation, not in the decentralisation of higher civil servants or the secretary general, that wasn’t tenable.”

Mr Martin said that when the National Employment Rights Authority was moved to Carlow, “it worked a dream” and was “oversubscribed” by people who wanted to return to work closer to their families, or by those who had been commuting from the south-east to Dublin every day.

As well as directly bringing people to live and work in regional areas, Mr Martin suggested the Government should be making it easier for private businesses and multinationals to operate outside of Dublin.

He said planning hurdles that companies must go through to expand their businesses show a clear “inertia and lack of energy or direction from the top”.

“Instead of putting barriers up we should be making things happen,” he said.

Hitting out at the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 plan — which has set a target of having 75% of the population growth outside of Dublin in the next two decades — Mr Martin said immediate action is needed to get it on track."

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