Rural areas pay price as Dublin recovers
‘Maybe we should just start listening to each other in this tiny country’
Áth Cliath or Gach Áit Eile? Do our views on what is right and natural change from the perspective of where we live? Photograph: Eric Luke
An entertaining sideshow of the elections was the stunned reaction of some Dublin media to the patchiness of rural broadband. Nearing midnight at a Co Longford count centre, several had to travel for miles to get a signal. Inside the European Parliament count centre in Castlebar, coverage ranged from limited to nonexistent. Broadband is as integral to modern life as a phone, but in rural Ireland you must never assume.
Such assumptions make the capital an attractive place to live and do business. If nothing else, the Dublin property bubble reinforces the old industry credo: location, location, location. And location equals cash. In the year to May, property prices outside Dublin increased by 1.8 per cent. In Dublin, the increase was 22 per cent. The average, mix-adjusted asking price for a home in Dublin is now 34 per cent higher than the national figure, according to Myhome.ie. That squares with trends seen at the height of the bubble.
The cash value of that gap is evident in bubble-era developments around the commuter counties. Scattered among the hapless, forced-out, first-time buyers are Dubliners who chose to exchange old, local authority, suburban houses for spacious, four-bed semis and a couple of cars.
So as well as a home, a house is an asset. In which case, surely those countless tax-funded services and amenities in the capital, those massively subsidised transport facilities, count for something in assessing cash value?
Yet last week, some Dublin Government TDs warned they would become “rebellious” if central funding for local authorities was diverted from Dublin councils towards rural areas. In other words, the city’s local authorities will hug their property tax windfalls (mostly a function of location and numbers) and they’re just not going to share.
What happened to the concept of the common good? Or clear public policy?
If even a small part of the rationale for a property tax is to deflate housing bubbles, does it not make sense for certain areas to pay more ?
A few weeks ago I suggested here that Dublin had a duty to at least acknowledge the existence of commuters before implementing traffic plans. The thrust of the robust, occasionally thoughtful, response was: “Suck it up. You made your choice. If you wanted hospitals, stadiums, galleries, work and handy bus and train hubs nearby, why did you choose to live in the country?” I get it. It’s a trade-off. (We’ll leave aside the dubious assumption that there is always a free choice or that the entire population should cram itself into the capital.)
A reference to that column in our property pages last week underlined the point, using as an example, a million-euro house in Ashbourne, about 20km from the city centre, “with features that house-hunters are unlikely to find within short cycling distance of O’Connell St”. Yes, I get it. It’s a trade-off. To be fair, the thought crossed my mind once or twice over the years since that move from a Ranelagh flat to Kildare, some scarily swift driving lessons and a new husband who could hardly roll up his fields and transport them to Dublin 6.
Brooks debacleSo, in view of all that, my reaction to the protests around the Garth Brooks/Croke Park debacle amid calls for compensation and the retention of a handball alley can probably be anticipated. Major acts choose Croke Park for blindingly obvious reasons. It’s within walking distance of the capital’s main street. It holds more than 80,000 people in a stadium conceived as a national asset (like the proposed Children’s Hospital, also planned for the heart of the city) and redeveloped on foot of a grand plan announced in the 1980s. That’s 30 years ago. How many of the current protesters knew this but moved in anyway?
So, to follow my respondents’ logic, shouldn’t they just suck it up or move to the country? But is it really that simple? There are families who set up home in rural byways decades ago who now find themselves a few hundred metres from the incessant roar of a motorway – a national asset, sure, but without even a spin-off to the local economy. There is no compensation for their blighted lives, no authority figure pleading “serious concerns”.
Maybe we should just start listening to each other in this tiny country. Those who perceive the solution to rural deficits as move-to-Dublin-or- shut-up might begin with this: affordability in Dublin is deteriorating by the minute.
That’s the flip side of soaring prices. You may not end up homeless as a result, but you or your grown children may find yourselves heading off to view a house 50km further away than you would like. You will note the episodic public transport and poor connections. You will check out the dismal alternative – the money pit of a car, with the relentless running costs, tolls and parking charges. And you will wonder what happened to all those options you thought you had.