Wednesday 18 September 2019

The new Luas is another tale of Ireland's genius

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The difficulties with the Luas fall into a strange place in our minds, a place in which we have lost our bearings.

In a normal country when something goes wrong with a public utility or with some aspect of public life in general, people can engage their brains in pursuit of a reasoned response, they can see that something was tried, and that something failed.

They know that life is complicated, so they understand that it was probably quite difficult, this thing that was tried, and sometimes they are not entirely sure that they could have done it better themselves - though of course they eventually decide that in all likelihood not only could they have done it better themselves, they could have done it a lot cheaper, and they would have finished it sooner.

Still, there's a debate of some kind going on in people's heads, they can see some vague logic underpinning the issues which have arisen.

This could not be said of the difficulties with the Luas. In Ireland when something of this nature goes wrong, it seems to involve something so profoundly dysfunctional that the mind just can't get a hold of it.

The human brain is constructed in such a way that we just can't process this kind of information, we find it hard to believe this stuff about the new Luas being longer than O'Connell Bridge, and the fact that a system designed to improve the flow of traffic immediately makes it very much worse.

It's just not a serious proposition, it defeats us in some fundamental way when we read that the problems with the new cross-city line can be largely blamed on "the behaviour of other road users, including pedestrians" - indeed if it wasn't for "other road users", everything would be fine.

We are not able to imagine a scenario in which nobody envisaged that in a capital city, you'd have these "other road users" - though actually it emerges that Dublin Bus had forecast that there would be problems at College Green when the new Luas was completed, it's just that, well... well... nothing.

And so with the trams going at this "slow jogging pace", and the outstanding punchline that the congestion is "a symptom of economic success", we are once more in that strange Irish realm of the apparently inexplicable.

It brings me back to the time when we were trying to work out the best place to build a new sports stadium in Dublin, with the Bertie Bowl being strongly favoured by Bertie.

And in those years when nothing was happening except talk of "planning" difficulties, I'd find myself looking at football matches being played in other countries - some of them very poor countries in Africa and Eastern Europe and the like - and I'd note that every one of these matches was being played in what can only be called a stadium.

How could they manage that, I wondered, did they not have "planning" anywhere else in the world? And then at long, long last, when we arrived back to where we started - with Croke Park on the northside and Lansdowne Road on the southside - I would ask myself, how could they manage in those other countries to have a stadium with four sides on it?

I mean, Croke Park and the Aviva are basically three-sided jobs, in the sense that there is one side which is not like the others, so that you find yourself looking at what might best be called a sawn-off stadium.

Where else would you see that, I would ask myself? Where else would you find not one sawn-off stadium but two, in the same city?

Yes, our old friend "planning" would be mentioned a lot, and yet many of these major Irish projects seem to involve whatever is the opposite of planning. There is "planning" and there is planning, and we have ingeniously mixed them up to ensure that we arrive at situations whereby we spend many years searching for a new location for the Abbey Theatre - and at the end of it all, the Abbey is still where it was. In Abbey Street.

Yeah, they called that one right in the end - though in a country run along different lines, with different priorities, they might have called it a bit sooner. Maybe 20 years sooner.

In more recent times I would cite the example of the Children's Hospital, but that is probably still too raw for many readers to contemplate on this otherwise peaceful Sunday morning. Suffice to say that even the naming of the facility displayed a level of wrongheadedness that is almost beyond human comprehension.

And has the time yet come when we are able to mention the words Irish Water in a calm and reasoned manner?

Of Irish Water it can certainly be said that an enormous amount of planning went into it, they really thought of just about everything when they were putting together the Irish Water - everything that is, except water.

That was the one missing ingredient in an otherwise all-encompassing package, a bit like the otherwise excellent update of the Luas which has encountered this snag which they call "other road users" - to paraphrase Jean-Paul Sartre, hell is other road users.

The rural broadband too, is experiencing a few... eh, teething problems, but there's a plan for that too, you may be sure.

I would mention in passing the fantastic work of fiction that is our police force, and that unfortunate incident a few years ago involving the collapse of the entire financial system. But I'm not going to just leave you here remembering all these unfortunate events in our island's story, without putting forward a possible explanation for it all.

I mean, this stuff couldn't be happening just by accident. There has to be a kind of a guiding spirit at the centre of it - it must tell us something about the essential nature of what might broadly be called the Irish ruling class.

Something like this: the genius of these people is not in doing things, as such, but in ensuring that if and when they are done, nobody will ever be blamed. Nobody will ever be held responsible.

Nobody of any consequence anyway.

And no, genius is not too strong a word to describe the talents of the Irish ruling class for avoiding what they laughingly call "the blame game".

They are truly brilliant at it. They have constructed a great labyrinth into which all accountability disappears.

They have created an elaborate infrastructure which offers them so many ways out of any trouble which might afflict them, that the worst thing that can happen is that they will be obliged to step aside from whatever position they hold - in order to take up some new position somewhere else, with more money in it and better hours.

Genius being what it is, if you have an extreme amount of it in one area, you'll probably fall short in some of the more mundane aspects of life.

Indeed Ireland's finest are so gifted in that area of expertise, it is a tribute to them that they can manage anything else at all.

How do they do it?

Sunday Independent

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