Monday 14 October 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Soaring rents and endless commuting means idea's time has come again'


Past lessons: Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McCreevy’s decentralisation programme was deemed a failure
Past lessons: Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McCreevy’s decentralisation programme was deemed a failure
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The word 'decentralisation' will forever be associated with former finance minister Charlie McCreevy and 'the boom'.

Back in December 2003, he stunned many colleagues by announcing the biggest re-organisation of the public service in the State's history.

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He promised it would come with a radical change of culture and end generations of Dublin bias among decision-makers.

McCreevy's plan involved moving the Office of Public Works and eight government departments out of the capital entirely. These included Education, Social Protection and Agriculture.

Other departments such as Finance were to be scattered across the country. Finance was across 13 locations ranging from Listowel to Claremorris and Kildare.

It was a mitigated disaster - but a disaster nonetheless. Only around one-third of the jobs moved out of Dublin and most management roles remained in the capital.

So the fact OPW Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran is lobbying for a new scheme as part of Budget 2020 comes as a surprise. The fact that Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe appears to see some merit in exploring the idea will scare many in his party ahead of a general election.

After all, it was the Fine Gael/Labour coalition that finally pulled the plug on McCreevy's grand plan when they took office in 2011. Of course, by then the economy was in freefall and the size of the civil service was being reduced.

Moran's proposal is to start small. The Ireland 2040 Plan selects Sligo and Athlone as 'regional centres' where growth should be prioritised so he wants to see how many civil servants would like to be based there.

The Westmeath TD admits it seems "parochial" to pick his home town - but insists that's where commuters are piling onto trains for Dublin at 6am every day.

He argues that decentralisation did work for the Office of Public Works. Technology has also developed hugely since McCreevy's effort at having colleagues sit hundreds of kilometres from each other.

And ultimately the minister says Dublin is choking. Rents are soaring to unachievable levels and long commutes mean family time is limited to weekends. There's definitely an argument for exploring the idea - but only if lessons have been learned.

Irish Independent

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