The Milliarium Aureum was a monument erected by the Emperor Caesar Augustus in the central forum of Ancient Rome. All roads were considered to begin at this monument and all distances in the Roman Empire were measured relative to it.
We have our own version of it. All roads lead to Dublin. The dominance of Dublin in the economic life of the country is borderline toxic and can no longer be ignored.
Notwithstanding the fact that a prosperous and vibrant capital is essential to any country, such overwhelming supremacy is bad for the body politic and bad for the economy.
New figures from the Central Statistics Office reveal that people living in Dublin have the highest disposable income in the country, the money left over when all the bills are paid. This is despite the fact that the cost of housing there is much higher than in many other parts of the country.
That, in some ways, is to be expected. After all, the capital is home to Ireland’s financial services industry and also hosts the likes of internet giants, like Google and Facebook.
Yet, the South-West region, including Cork, is the home of the European branch of Apple and is also the location of a large pharmaceutical industry that generates more national income than any other part of the country.
Indeed, a 2016 study by the statistical agency Eurostat revealed that Cork workers generate almost €105,000 per person every year, higher than the €96,000 produced by Dublin workers, and even higher than that produced by high fliers in the City of London.
It is also a fact that Dublin is home to almost half the population of Ireland, a unique pre-eminence not found in any other country in Europe. Even London, with a population of almost 9m, does not enjoy such dominance in Britain. If it did, the population of the city would be in the region of 33m. Even as it is, the large population of London, and the money it generates, has revealed a disconnect between the city and the rest of Britain, particularly in light of Brexit. London voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, while the rest of England and Wales voted to leave.
There is no such political disconnect between Dublin and the rest of Ireland, but there is an economic one. The CSO study shows that people in the Dublin region enjoyed an average disposable income of over €24,000 in 2016. That’s more than 18% higher than the national average.
The only other counties to exceed the national average, of €20,638, were Limerick, Kildare, and Wicklow. Carlow, Cork, and Waterford were just below the average, while the border region had the lowest amount of disposable income, at €17,370.
The figures also indicate that the gap between Dublin and the regions is growing, underscoring concern that Ireland’s economy has become too skewed in favour of Dublin.
Cork is the only city capable of providing a proper counterbalance to Dublin, but it needs State investment to make that happen. That must include not just a proper motorway system in the South-West, but high-speed broadband. All roads may still lead to Dublin, but they don’t have to end there.