‘Throwing money around on big projects’

A sorry record on large-scale infrastructure projects

Sir, – Cliff Taylor argues that the “Era of throwing money around on big projects has to stop” (Opinion & Analysis, February 17th). I agree with his argument. But it does not mean you stop doing big projects. Instead, it means that the new infrastructure guidelines, introduced by the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform on January 1st, now need to be rigorously enforced, by departments and public bodies, at the distinct stages of project delivery. Projects should only be allowed to proceed when they get the “green light” at each evaluation stage. That means that departments and public bodies should be prepared at any stage, “. . . despite costs having been incurred in appraising, planning and developing a project, to abandon it if, on balance, continuation would not represent value for money” (Infrastructure Guidelines, Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform). Departments and public bodies should be challenged regularly to demonstrate that the new guidelines are being fully implemented. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.


Sir, – As a regular reader and admirer of David McWilliams’s article, I was surprised by the headline on his piece this week, “Ireland needs be more like Ryanair and less like Irish Rail” (Opinion, February 17th).

Iarnród Éireann has a proven record when it comes to delivering rail infrastructure, within budget, and mainly delivered by directly employed experienced infrastructure and permanent way employees. The Iarnród Éireann of today is light years removed from that which existed toward the end of the 20th century. The modern railway of today was achieved through appropriate funding and the hard work and cooperation of our members and their colleagues.

Whilst accepting that Ryanair is a stellar company, comparing its success with the abject failure of governments to deliver a metro by using Irish Rail as an example of that failure does not stand up to scrutiny. Only a few weeks ago, Iarnród Éireann, at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, said that a heavy (Dart) rail link to Dublin Airport, with sufficient capacity, could be constructed in three to five years, and at a cost of below €1 billion.

We all accept that a metro for the capital is absolutely needed, but, even if the planning process runs smoothly (history tells us the opposite), it will take at least 10 years from shovels in the ground to passengers on board. A rail link into Dublin Airport, complemented in time with the metro, would ensure that any increase in capacity at the airport can be adequately catered for. Why not construct the Dart link? That question should be asked of our politicians, both in Government and Opposition. – Yours, etc,


General Secretary,

National Bus and Rail Union,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – David McWilliams is right. Ireland does not do large-scale publicly funded projects well because there is no accountability in the system. Nobody is held to account when things go wrong and everybody takes the credit when things go according to plan.

I have a proposal to address this problem. Whenever a new large-scale project is announced the Government should recruit a board of management with the requisite skills from the market place to manage the project from beginning to end. This board of management would be named (the most important point) and would therefore be publicly accountable for the success or failure of the project. Board members would be handsomely paid for their services and would be paid a success bonus for delivering the project on time and within budget. Board members would be financially incentivised to deliver success whereas their professional reputations would be tarnished by any failure.

Such a model would have a decent chance of ensuring better accountability and transparency in such projects. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – While David McWilliams is correct in criticising the “can’t do” attitude of some in Ireland, I fail to understand why he links it to a commitment to technological change. It was possible in the past to build houses and hospitals in Ireland, and metros in other countries, with none of the technology (from household goods to high-end information technology) that became available in the 20th and 21st centuries. Attitude is the issue, not technology or technological change. – Yours, etc,