FORTY per cent of Ireland's population lives in the greater Dublin area, yet the city does not have the political or decision-making power that reflects its commercial influence.
Dublin is utterly subservient to national government, which has neglected the specific needs and priorities that pertain to a capital city. Many in the city business community argue that the capital is becoming a backwater which is losing its identity among the cities of Europe.
An independent study published by the Dublin City Business Association (DCBA), for example, has shown that a 'mismatch' exists between the revenue resources devoted to Dublin and the rest of the country by Bord Failte.
The Rejuvenating Dublin's Tourism Product report contends that just 6 per cent of Failte Ireland's funds are allocated to Dublin even though the city accounted for 32 per cent of total tourist revenue in 2009. The city generates the greatest financial return and number of visitors to the country, but is invisible when it comes to policy. This is nowhere more evident than in the name of Dublin's tourist office, which is called the Discover Ireland Tourist Office.
Incredibly, back in the Fifties, Ireland had as many international visitors as Spain. The international tourist market has significantly changed since then. Although a slight increase on tourist numbers was recorded this year, Ireland has experienced a massive slump over the last decade. CSO figures show that a decline of almost 30 per cent in tourist revenue occ- urred between 2006 and 2009.
It is simplistic to attribute this colossal drop to the global downturn. The Millward Browne Lansdowne Visitor Attitude Survey for Failte Ireland revealed that only 30 per cent of overseas holiday visitors to Dublin are repeat visitors. This suggests that tourists are not satisfied with their experience, and choose not to return, displaying no customer loyalty.
In contrast, 47 per cent of visitors to Amsterdam are repeat visitors. Even though Amsterdam has half the population of Dublin, it attracts seven million overseas visitors annually, compared to two million for Dublin. Why?
Amsterdam's success in attracting repeat visitors can partly be attributed to the international convention circuit. In the 2011, worldwide ranking of congress cities compiled by the International Congress and Convention Association, Amsterdam was ranked eight while Dublin was 23.
The DCBA-commissioned report makes the case that Ireland's first purpose-built convention centre, located in Spencer Dock, is constrained in achieving its potential.
The National Convention Centre is operated by Treasury Holdings under a 25-year public-private partnership (PPP) with the Government. There are fears that the contract, which is not in the public domain, contains a "take-or-pay clause" (buy the Convention Centre outright or pay back over 25 years). The pricing rates of the Convention Centre are regarded as high by some on the convention circuit.
Indeed, a 2009 report by the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) found that a Government-appointed committee rejected a proposal to build the National Convention Centre for half of its eventual cost. The C&AG also found that the cost of the project would outweigh its economic benefit by €200m over the next 25 years.
Under the PPP agreement, the Government committed to paying Treasury €3.9m a month for the first five years and €2m a month thereafter for the next 20 years as part of the deal for the construction and running of the centre.
The taxpayer will pay Treasury for the Convention Centre for the next 25 years, even though the C&AG found that Treasury's winning bid was "the most expensive proposal".
If Treasury Holdings goes into liquidation, the PPP on the Convention Centre might lapse. This would present an opportunity for the Government to reduce the surreal capital value of the centre and thereby allow a purchaser to build the overseas convention business on a lower cost base.
Apart from failing to retain repeat tourists, there is no apparent long-term vision for the city. In London, the directly elected lord mayor develops the strategy for the capital. The duties of the indirectly elected first citizen of Dublin, Naoise O Muiri, are ceremonial in nature, absent of any policy teeth or executive powers.
This may explain why Dublin is a city that has a fragmented centre, but one with a lot of space -- the 1,752-acre Phoenix Park is one of the largest recreational spaces within any European capital city. Yet we are virtually unique insofar as our capital does not have an immediately identifiable city space.
The grounds of Dublin Castle could serve that purpose. Dublin Castle should be the jewel in the crown for the Office of Public Works. It was here that Michael Collins arrived by taxi in 1922 for the takeover ceremony from the British which formally marked Irish independence.
Aside from this historical significance, most Irish people would struggle to name the 10 separate tourist attractions within the castle walls -- such as the Chester Beatty Library, the State Apartments, the Chapel Royal, the Record Tower, the Dubh Linn Garden, the Garda Museum and the Revenue Museum. Bram Stoker's office is not open for visitors.
The castle had a two million footfall through its grounds last year. However, most of it resembles a giant car park for the operational needs of the Revenue Commissioners, National Stamp Duty Office, Garda National Drugs Unit, Traffic Department, Regional Architectural Offices and the Comptroller and Auditor General, whose offices are off the lower courtyard.
This premier city space should be the city's public plaza, a recreational and pedestrianised village in the heart of the city, not an administrative centre. There are enough empty Nama office blocks out there seeking tenants.
But more than that, new tourist attractions must be purposely created for Dublin. The DCBA-commissioned report recommends that a European branch of a major Beijing museum should be located in Dublin. The cities have recently twinned with one another. The Chester Beatty museum would prove a natural partner, given that it holds almost 950 snuff bottles from the Qing dynasty, no less. The Qianlong Emperor's jade books and rhinoceros-horn carvings "are considered singular examples within Chinese art history".
A "Museum of the Four Laureates" in the front section of College Green's Bank of Ireland would celebrate the fact that Dublin is the only city in the world that can claim four Nobel Laureates in Literature.
Dublin will be the home of Ireland's presidency of the European Union for six months from next January.
And 2013 marks the year of 'The Gathering', a government tourist initiative inviting anyone with a connection to our country to come and visit.
But first we must get the basics right. Take Dublin's notoriously confusing city signage. Basic directions of north, south, east and west are missing from signposts. Why are signs in Irish rather than French, Spanish or German?
The Liffey Millennium Boardwalk is a by-word for open drug abuse and is increasingly a no-go zone.
But Dublin can get things right, sometimes. Dublin City Council will shortly roll out free wireless internet access to city parks and busy thoroughfares. The council originally had a more ambitious free wifi scheme for the entire city, but EU state aid rules scuppered this.
This initiative was first mooted in 2007. Yet it took five years to finally implement, partly because the city of Dublin does not have any political clout.
Councillors are often restrained from making policy decisions on behalf of the city because of the constraints of national government. That's no way to run a capital.