Tuesday 24 October 2017

Why 1,000 new Facebook jobs in Dublin could spark fears of a fresh housing crisis

It's a cycle that we're sadly getting used to in Ireland Photo: Bloomberg
It's a cycle that we're sadly getting used to in Ireland Photo: Bloomberg
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Here we go again.

Facebook is closing in on a new, additional Dublin building with up to 1,000 new staff.

What's the biggest reaction? Is it 'oh great'? Or 'wow'? Or even 'how can we capitalise on this'?

No. It's 'now hold on there, where will people live?'

This is as understandable as it is depressing. In a week when official figures showed the lowest unemployment rate Ireland has had in nearly a decade, we're heading full tilt into another infrastructural crisis.

There aren't enough houses, transport is creaking and we have no real resolve to fundamentally restructure either problem.

We just can't be bothered.

Take accommodation. We don't have nearly enough housing or office space in Dublin. And we won't allow big high-rise developments around the city.

As a result, rents are soaring to unheard-of levels. Forget about renting a modern two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the city for under €15,000 a year.

And, with Google and Facebook adding jobs, get ready for new price hikes in swathes of adjacent north city neighbourhoods, especially Fairview, Marino and East Wall.

Of course, that's before any potential Brexit jobs-relocation dividend from London.

We know how this is going to play out. Renters under pressure with astronomical rises. Startups pushed out of available offices. Young couples able to buy less and less in Dublin.

Read more: Exclusive: Are you the type of employee Facebook wants? An interview with EMEA HR chief

Politicians will blame market conditions and come up with some token budget giveaways to calm the more middle-class complainers. Planners will say that they don't have a mandate to expand beyond the city's boutique infrastructural aspirations and the public - who object to so many proposed infrastructural expansions - will say that the country is badly run.

It's a cycle that we're sadly getting used to in Ireland. There's little real aspiration to grow beyond our vision of ourselves: a 'grand little' country.

High-rises? Sorry, not our style.

Radically better public transport links within and around cities? Too expensive and fancy for the likes of us.

Reform of the legal industry? Maybe, but we don't really understand how and those lawyers seem so authoritative - best leave that one alone.

Why are we so timid and meek? What is it about our psyche that we almost prefer to be in a struggling state than a confident, on-top-of-it one?

In terms of industrial growth, we are arguably facing several open doors at the moment. These include Brexit and (despite it all) a constant appetite among the big US tech and pharmaceutical firms to have bigger and bigger operations in Ireland.

One might argue that it's foolish to invest based on uncertain global trading conditions, that we're putting too many eggs in too few baskets.

But the problems we now face go well beyond accommodating US multinationals. Even if none of them grow for the next five years, we still have an accommodation and transportation problem. At this point, planning is just to help us tread water.

Whenever this subject comes up, it is argued that we are making do with limited funds in a still-recovering Ireland. That is true, as is the argument that there are many deserving requests for state funding.

But let's not kid ourselves. Many of us simply don't want things to change. Forget the crocodile tears of homeowners and the sanctified 'squeezed middle'. The core of Irish voters always, always prefers steep house price rises over lower, steadier increases or a consistent, even market for renters.

Many of us just don't want to grow into some advanced industrial or business place. At least, not if it interferes with our dreams about becoming millionaire landlords.

The London banks are starting to realise this. Any close observer will tell you that we're only half-heartedly looking for a Brexit jobs dividend from London's big financial firms. Despite an open goal staring at us, we simply don't want to deal with any housing or transportation headache that come with such an industrial growth spurt.

We try to publicly press Ireland's case as a place to do business.

But our invitation is limited to jobs around which we don't have to plan or prepare anything new. Anyone with bigger ideas that require a step up in national strategic planning have little to look to around Dublin.

There is nowhere to put new, growing companies.

"If you're between 20 and 40 people, it's so difficult to find somewhere," one startup founder told me recently. "And you don't really have the equivalent of WeWork here."

Dozens, if not hundreds, of growing companies say the same thing. Ireland isn't modernising its business infrastructure. It doesn't have a big idea.

It will wheel jobs ministers and Taoisigh out for handshakes and single transferable speeches, but there's no reform of archaic planning, property and legal strictures that tie an economy's growth down to a few landlords and the Law Society.

We don't want to be big, we want to be 'grand'.

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