Decentralisation renewal mooted: Serve social, not political ambitions

Aspirational rhetoric and reality have again collided in a soberingly Irish way.

Decentralisation renewal mooted: Serve social, not political ambitions

Aspirational rhetoric and reality have again collided in a soberingly Irish way.

Just as Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin advocated — rightly — that decentralisation be revived, the National Broadband Plan (NBP) has run into the sand.

The expectations of rural businesses and communities have been dashed again.

Patience has been over-stretched and technological isolation continues.

It is impossible to speculate on how many just-hanging-on businesses will close because of these well-flagged difficulties, but some will.

The withdrawal of SSE from the consortium that proposes to deliver usable broadband to nearly 600,000 premises is, despite denials, the coup de grâce for the NBP in its current form.

The level of decentralistion needed to counter this can never be, nor should it be, achieved.

In the struggle to sustain rural communities broadband is the lifeblood, decentralisation might be the icing on the cake — but you can’t have one without the other.

Mr Martin will be aware of this. He was, after all, in the cabinet that made the disastrous decision — the privatisation of Eircom — at the root of this cutting off.

Be that as it may, his suggestion rings true.

In this age of urbanisation — for the first time more people now live in cities than elsewhere — Dublin area draws ambitious young people like moths to a flame.

Mr Martin underlined this when he pointed out that the younger generation is “disillusioned” that they are forced to move to Dublin where they are snared by high rents and insurance costs — or strangers to their families because of three-hours-a-day commutes.

And all the while their home towns wilt and fade towards obsolescence.

As if to emphasise this Catch-22, an auctioneering firm yesterday announced that the last waterfront development site in Dublin’s North Docklands is for sale for €120m.

It will host 420 apartments, so that’s another 420 expensive homes bought using some of the most expensive mortgages in the EU.

Hardly the Ireland Connolly and Pearse died for.

Earlier decentralisation proposals, stretching back to 1980, when a Fianna Fáil government proposed moving 3,210 public servants to 12 locations across the country, were political exercises.

A reality derided by Labour’s Barry Desmond: “The most striking thing I found... was the extraordinary coincidence whereby each area selected for decentralisation coincided with the fact that there was a minister in each of the particular centres.

"Fianna Fáil have a concept of decentralisation whereby every town Ireland will have an army barracks, a health board headquarters, a regional hospital, a psychiatric hospital, an airport, an international sports complex, a huge AnCo training centre, half a dozen civil service departments working all in that town of 5,000 or 10,000 people.

"That is not decentralisation. It is political nonsense. It is promising people benefits which we all know cannot be delivered.”

We cannot afford another bout of self-serving gombeenism.

We need decentralisation that is first and foremost a social project — but before that can be even considered we need to get broadband to those half-abandoned corners of this island before the opportunity to decentralise is lost forever.

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