In this column, which first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday May 30th, I ask why our city – Dublin – is slowly, but progressively, falling apart. This is a follow-up, to previous pieces on street crime and housing and says that the chronic shortage of labour due to people being unable to live in the city due to the soaring cost of living here is grinding life here to a standstill.
This week’s column will be mercifully short. Not because I have deliberately set out to write a short one, but because this is all that is left over this morning after I deleted all the expletives and libelous references to Dublin Airport senior management, I angrily included last night.
The other reason it is short is because today’s offering is effectively a follow-up, to last week’s effort as I am again writing how the cost of living in Dublin is slowly grinding life here to a standstill. Indeed both this piece and last week’s are themselves follow-ons from a previous column on the level of street crime in our city centre.
It is not as if most people had not seen this coming. Back in October 2019, in the course of a tirade on Broadsheet about the perils of relying on public transport I wrote:
There is now almost no area or facet of Dublin’s infrastructure that is not close to breaking point.
I regularly hear from clients and colleagues about the difficulties they encounter in attracting young talent to come live and work in Dublin as people hear about our spiralling cost of living and the declining quality of life.
We are pushing much of this city’s infrastructure so far beyond any reasonable point of endurance that we put Dublin’s future as a good place to live in grave risk.
There was no great genius in this prophecy. It has been obvious since the start of the economic recovery that public policy makers were neither going to learn any lessons from the economic crash, nor use the crash and recovery to reset the balance between economic growth and creating a livable environment.
The result is what we see about us in Dublin: a city infrastructure that is creaking at the seams because it cannot serve the needs of those who depend on it, but which cannot be expanded because the labour needed to rebuild that infrastructure cannot be found as the wages cannot reasonably cover the cost of living in or around Dublin today.
It is a classic Catch-22. We cannot accommodate the additional workers we urgently need to make this city work satisfactorily… but neither can make this city work satisfactorily until we can house and offer these additional workers a decent standard of living.
The net result is that failing to find and implement a major shift in public policy to address this Catch-22 will inevitably lead to a steady market driven decline of the city and drives people away until the population, social and economy activity fits our dwindling infrastructure.
Allowing students to earn a few grand more before losing their SUSI grants is not the answer to the labour shortage problems, we see all across all sectors of our economy, not just on our trains or in Dublin Airport.
Minister Simon Harris’s announcement this morning is a bit like the little old Jewish lady who upon seeing a collapsed man on the pavement urges the paramedics to:
“give him some chicken soup, give him some chicken soup”.
“He’s had a heart attack” says the paramedic, “chicken soup, won’t help him,”
“It wouldn’t hurt” says she.
Though his comments and suggestions do not make the situation any worse, they do draw attention to the dire paucity of any big scale thinking across the rest of government and across the opposition too. Perhaps this was a factor in the always ambitious minister’s thinking? We shall never know… or care… but the steady as she goes approach seen from his colleagues is no longer acceptable.
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin was quite correct when he described the scenes at Dublin Airport yesterday was “not satisfactory.” The same can be said of the situation there today and potentially tomorrow. But An Taoiseach and his ministers need to understand that the chaos at Dublin Airport is part of a wider problem that is much worse than “not satisfactory.”
This is not to exculpate the senior management and board of Dublin Airport, who have maintained Carmelite levels of serene disconnection and silence over the past 24 hours. One must assume that the Airport management, which individually and collectively is professional and experienced, also has a story to tell – but why is it not doing so?
While the Airport’s communications team have done a reasonably decent job both yesterday and today, where are the people who are actually responsible for managing the Airport, rather than managing communications?
The absence of any senior Board or the Management team, particularly the Board Chair, CEO or Airport MD, on the media yesterday was stunning. Why wasn’t one of them on the main RTÉ news last night to explain, in detail, why yesterday happened and the steps they are taking to avoid a repeat of those scenes?
They are paid to ensure that the billions the State spent on the Airport is used to make travelling in and out of Dublin by air a relatively pleasant experience – there are clearly having problems doing this… and it is only fair that the rest of us know what these are.
Pretending that there is not a bigger problem, one that will require significant shifts in policy to address, is doing none of us any favours.