Una Mullally: Why two Gaeltacht Ministers but no minister for Dublin?

With a directly elected mayor scuppered for now, there’s a feeling no one is in charge of the city

When a rake of new junior ministers were announced last week – the second-highest ever number in the history of the State – there was a glaring omission. That Ireland does not have a dedicated department for the arts, or arts and culture (never mind heritage, a post that is now history), nor a junior minister for arts, culture, creativity or anything else involving things the Government pushes to the fore when celebrations or self-congratulation is required yet not supported adequately at other times, is ridiculous. The grumble in the arts community is growing into a roar, so fed-up artists are of having their heads patted when they win awards or inspire the nation, and then being kicked through the cat flap of Government departments in Fine Gael's Ireland. Perhaps increased funding will pacify the arts world, but there's nothing that annoys creative people more than being ignored or sidelined. It is a profession, after all, based on presenting one's work in search of meaning, reflection, identity, affirmation, and if success prevails, praise. But leaving the arts aside, a la Fine Gael, the announcements showed that rural Ireland now has an embarrassment of ministries.

Who’s who

Heather Humphreys has responsibility for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, then the Arts, and then the Gaeltacht. Michael Creed is Minister for Agriculture. Seán Kyne has responsibility for Gaeltacht Affairs, which gives the Gaeltacht two ministries, which is very strange considering Fine Gael has consistently neglected and undermined the Irish language. Maybe if more artists lived in rural areas they'd get somewhere. Michael Ring is the Minister of State for Regional Economic Development, another echo of Humphreys's ministry. Andrew Doyle is in charge of forestry and horticulture.

So here's an idea. While we're handing ministries out like sweets, why not a minister for Dublin? No one talks about anyone overseeing the capital because conversations about it begin and end with "we should have a directly elected mayor for Dublin". But we don't. So who is in charge? Another reason no one talks about a minister for Dublin is because rural Ireland is incredibly sensitive to neglect, and rightly so. But there can be plenty of people working for rural Ireland as well as a minister working for Dublin. It doesn't have to be either/or. Another complaint you hear is that Dublin is somehow magically prioritised because some politicians and Ministers are from there. But there is a difference between being from Dublin and having responsibility for Dublin. Damien English is a Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal. English is a TD for Meath West.

With a directly elected mayor scuppered for the time being, there’s a feeling no one is in charge of the city. Dublin has three county councils and one city council. The lack of cohesion or an overall plan for the city is crippling it. Planning is disjointed, dereliction is endemic, interaction with city and county councils creates a tangle of red tape. There’s a housing crisis that covers a lack of social housing, overflowing housing lists, rising rents in the private sector, the selling-off of council housing, homelessness, and a lack of housing stock. There are battles over school places, clogged up hospitals, transport strikes, gangland crime sprees, and so on. I wonder where the big map of Dublin is that lays out the plans for the city. Does a blueprint even exist?

The only thing that seems to be progressing in Dublin is its plans for everyone in the city but those who actually live in it – the tourists. In the equation of how much people are worth, it feels like one tourist is equal to at least five Dubliners. Natty slogans and campaigns are designed to lure people here and show them how great it is, yet little planning is being done for those who actually live here. How can Dublin end up avoiding having more apartment blocks with no storage where people have their bikes and buggies on balconies? As London appoints a “night mayor”, what can be done to save Dublin’s nightlife and make the city not just an attractive night “destination” but an enjoyable city for its inhabitants?

Even at a basic financial level – which is how you have to talk to Fine Gael – why won’t the Government prioritise the capital, when Dublin is the driving force of the economy? There are nearly 4.6 million people living in the Republic. Nearly 1.3 million live in Dublin county, of which nearly 530,000 live in the city. Some 28 per cent of the population resides in Dublin, and that doesn’t count people from outside the county who work in it, or Irish people who visit.

Capital’s direction

It is our capital. All Irish people can claim it. The total population of the Gaeltacht according to the 2011 census is 100,716, which is 2 per cent of our population. It is crucial to look after Gaeltacht areas and find innovative ways to preserve the Irish language. But Irish is not just a Gaeltacht issue, it is a national issue. Why, then, does the Gaeltacht get two ministries – one senior and one junior – and our capital city have none? If we’re not going to appoint a mayor, perhaps it’s time for a minister. Someone needs to take charge of the city as it bobs along aimlessly.