‘Wasteful’ Dublin Millennium projects got chopped by ‘Mac the Knife’

Memo from Ray MacSharry for 1988 event condemns plans of government colleague

A 70ft model of Gulliver  on Dollymount strand was among the projects for the Dublin Millennium. Photograph: Jack MacManus

A 70ft model of Gulliver on Dollymount strand was among the projects for the Dublin Millennium. Photograph: Jack MacManus

 

The Republic’s capital celebrated the Dublin Millennium in 1988 even though, according to historians, the city was founded by the Vikings about 841.

The millennium was seized upon by Dublin Corporation as an attempt to spruce up a capital city which had become by common consent shabby and run down.

The department of the environment, for which Pádraig Flynn was the then minister, submitted an ambitious programme of work costing £2.2 million to the department of finance for National Lottery funding.

However, Mr Flynn had reckoned without the scrutiny of the then minister for finance, Ray MacSharry, who earned the sobriquet “Mac the Knife” for his ruthless approach to public spending.

True to form, he gave short shrift to the department of the environment programme and instead allocated just £500,000 to the Dublin Millennium.

A memo from Mr MacSharry was forthright in its dismissal of the plan. “The Minister wishes to remind the Government of the extremely severe expenditure cutbacks introduced in 1988. Every single area of expenditure has been examined to eliminate waste and non-priority agencies and programmes are being abolished, with major loss of jobs in many instances.”

He then made observations that must have made for uncomfortable reading for his party colleague.

“The proposals from the Minister for Environment seriously undermine this approach, involving as they do in most cases expenditure which are quite unnecessary and indeed wasteful.”

Vetoed projects

Mr MacSharry went on to list at great length the projects that the department of finance would not support.

He vetoed a £690,000 grant for a North City Arts Centre attached to the National Institute for Higher Education, Dublin (now DCU), stating that it could be built by the private sector. He disallowed a £250,000 grant for a permanent exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral on the basis that there was a constitutional bar on the endowment of any church.

He was also scathing of a proposal on the part of Dublin Corporation that sought £250,000 for environment improvement works.

Mr MacSharry noted: “It would appear from the memorandum that the Corporation is making no contribution itself to the Millennium year, despite its budget of several hundreds of millions.”

Instead, Mr MacSharry suggested that the private sector, which was contributing £2.5 million to the year, should fund some of the work themselves.