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Why not move Dublin Port now, rather than later, while we have lots of money and a housing crisis?

If you are saying, ‘Oh here he goes again with his ‘move the port’ idea’, fair enough. But years ago I was accused of writing too frequently about a coming property crash

When you emerge cityward from the Port Tunnel, you face a brick wall. Dublin’s waterfront view is a high grey wall, topped with rusty barbed wire to keep the people out. Most European cities of consequence cherish their waterfront as a source of civic pride, home for thousands of residents, the site of major amenities like museums or public parks with bustling seafronts that are serviced by public infrastructure. Or they are a location for start-ups, packed with restaurants and bars, attracting tourists and locals alike. Dublin could not be more different.

Other maritime cities embrace the sea, understanding its value. Our capital city turns its back on the sea. There could be walkways, cycle paths, swimming baths or public areas with breathtaking views of the sea and back to the Dublin mountains; but now, we have more empty container parks. Ireland is a country with a massive shortage of housing in the right areas, and we say we are committed to sustainability, which means denser, living. We are treaty-bound to reduce car use and must free up urban land for urban housing. But we set aside at least 260 hectares (650 acres) of prime land for a port that shouldn’t be there. Cities across the world, like Barcelona, Bremen, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Oslo, Bilbao, Buenos Aires and Genoa, have redeveloped or relocated their traditional ports. As this column has argued time and again, there is nothing wrong with Dublin Port, it’s just in the wrong place. Ports do not have to be at the mouth of rivers anymore because rivers are not used to transport goods. When was the last time you saw a commercial barge on the Liffey?

If you are saying, Oh here he goes again with his ‘move the port’ idea”, fair enough. However, many years ago I was accused, when it was neither popular nor profitable, of writing too frequently about a coming property crash. In hindsight, the impeding crash was not written about too much and not highlighted enough. It was the right thing to do then and this is the right thing to do now.

The future of not just the city but our entire approach to 21st-century infrastructure depends on major public initiatives. Ireland’s endemic transport and planning frailties, which lead to untold misery for so many, stem from an inability to engage in “cathedral thinking” — thinking long term in a short-term world. (The expression comes from the people who built medieval cathedrals knowing they’d be dead before completion but future generations would benefit from their labour.) It is clear that in terms of urban development, long-term thinking points to moving Dublin Port to a green-field site. This would free up an urban space, about a third the size of Phoenix Park or 10 times the size of St Stephen’s Green, to build a new waterfront mini-city.


The prospect of such a new Ireland gives us the chance to reimagine the country, embrace large projects, reorientate our cities and public infrastructure and create a country where the public realm matches the country’s wealth

Coming between the State and cathedral thinking is this public company (Dublin Port Company) owned by the State, in fact owned by you. The company’s recalcitrant attitude to State-owned, urban land, essential for housing, was evidenced again this week. Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan drew attention to the remarkable land-use policies of Dublin Port Company (RTÉ). In particular, he focused on a 10-acre car park at Dublin Port, holding some 2,500 imported cars for distribution to retailers countrywide.

The site beside the Port Tunnel is home to a giant car park. Take that in! It is one of three sites around the port that were identified by the Land Development Agency as having potential for residential development, with space for at least 1,200 homes. Bear in mind, we’re talking about 10 acres of prime land in our capital city that is within walking distance of existing Luas lines. The idea that this site, owned by the State, would be a car park in a city needing long-term thinking on housing is beyond belief and is short-term expedience at its most damming. Imported cars can be deposited anywhere in the country and should be. Even the idea of worrying about where imported cars will be stored during a climate emergency reveals something about priorities.

Another reason for renewed focus on Dublin Port is the emergence of more detail about the redevelopment plan for the port at Bremore, which is expected to seek planning by 2026/2027. Close to the M1 motorway and the Dublin-Belfast rail line, Bremore is envisaged to be Ireland’s first energy port — converting wind energy to green hydrogen, with plans for specialised quays for wind turbine assembly. According to its creators, this greenfield plan will contribute significantly to decarbonisation of heavy goods and marine transport (Drogheda Port). This is the type of thinking Ireland needs. Bremore will be the first deep-water port constructed in this country since foundation of the State. Crucially, there is plenty of available neighbouring land allowing for expansion of port facilities. The transport links are already there and upgrading of the planned rail infrastructure could incorporate new lines to move more of the island’s freight away from roads and on to more environmentally-friendly trains.

Dublin Port is already almost at full capacity. According to its own publications, The Dublin Port Company asserts: “If Dublin Port’s cargo volumes continue to grow in the future as they have in the past, then a new port will have to be built at a greenfield site on the east coast of Ireland. If our growth projections in Dublin Port Company (DPC) come to pass, then this new port will need to be ready for operation in just 20 years’ time by 2040″. (Dublin Port 2040)

If the port is to be moved in the future, why not shift it now, when the State has lots of money, a housing crisis and — as a result of the slump in commercial property building — we will have increased construction capacity. Over the coming decades, the country is set to change dramatically, not least constitutionally. The prospect of such a new Ireland gives us the chance to reimagine the country, embrace large projects, reorientate our cities and public infrastructure and create a country where the public realm matches the country’s wealth. Public infrastructure could be something we might be proud of rather than embarrassed by — in the same way as French people are proud of their TGVs, the Singaporeans proud of their rail system with more than 140 stations across six lines, or the Japanese with their bullet trains.

And what about a new waterfront city, like Oslo’s new port city? Imagine a Dublin embracing the sea rather than shunning it? Consider employing the best urban planners and architects in the world to build a new maritime metropolis? It may well be completed after many of us are gone, but isn’t that the point? We should be building for people who are not yet born. The Arabs have an expression “planting seeds for trees whose protective shade you will never sit under”. We need to think the same way.