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Jason O'Mahony: 'Ireland should enter space to live race - by moving capital from Dublin to Athlone'

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City limits: Dublin and many of its residents would benefit from a reduction in the city’s magnetic appeal

City limits: Dublin and many of its residents would benefit from a reduction in the city’s magnetic appeal

City limits: Dublin and many of its residents would benefit from a reduction in the city’s magnetic appeal

The Indonesian president announced recently that his government would soon begin planning to move the capital from Jakarta to a new city some 1,000km away, at a cost of some $33bn (€30bn).

As a concept, it's an idea that has always intrigued me with regard to our own capital.

Should Dublin remain the capital city?

I've raised this before in polite company (making it less polite as the night went on and the porter went down) but there are interesting side-effects and benefits to such a proposition.

Why would we consider something that seems such a radical concept?

Let's start with the simple fact that Dublin does not need to be the capital, and the economic benefit of being the capital is wasted on it. All those Government buildings and the Supreme Court and parliament and all those embassies don't really add much to a city which is creaking with a shortage of housing and road space.

Dublin is already the economic capital, to such an extent that it is buggering up balanced regional development, hoovering up money and people and making the city more unpleasant for its current residents and eye-wateringly expensive for its new arrivals.

You know where would benefit from being the capital of Ireland?

Athlone.

Before you suggest it, Westmeath County Council hasn't slipped me a few bob, although I am open to offers.

I'm not suggesting that Athlone is the definite choice, merely that there are towns outside our cities, particularly in the midlands, that would benefit much more from the massive injection of spending that such an ambitious policy would bring.

But consider something much more radical. Picture a new city being built around or as part of an existing town like Athlone, with public transport, commercial and business districts and services and housing all planned together, and linked to Dublin with a high-speed rail link.

A city designed from scratch not around the car but on the idea that most people in the city won't need one, and with high-rise, high-quality and affordable housing from day one so that no one can block it in planning.

A city of trees and parks and cycle lanes, with a University of the Midlands to attract direct investment with a skilled and educated workforce.

A capital city outside Dublin where people actually want to live, work and study because it is designed first and foremost as a liveable city.

There are benefits for Dublin too.

The city could actually do with a reduction in its magnetic appeal, taking pressure off housing and freeing up buildings, housing and precious road space. There are consequences, of course.

Athlone as a capital would be incredibly expensive to build, and would invariably require 15 or 20 years before completion. There'd be the mightiest of rows as the Healy-Raes demand it be moved to Kerry, the West flings itself to the ground in dramatic anguish, Cork gets into an almighty huff and Kilkenny tells anyone who will listen that it already is a city.

We'd go through the whole decentralisation debate again about moving civil servants but that's where the new city comes into its own.

The whole purpose of the project would be to build a new economic hub, with the objective being a high quality of life.

It's very easy for many ordinary Irish men and women to look at the towering cranes and swanky new hotels in Dublin and think, "Yeah, that's all lovely, but how do they benefit me?" Affordable housing and sustainable economic development, buoyed up by the public spending a capital city attracts, would set the city out from every major existing urban area in Ireland, a city that nobody moves to until there actually is a significant surplus of affordable housing.

In 2022, we celebrate 100 years of independence. Imagine initiating a project like this as our declaration of what it means to be a sovereign, free nation in control of the destiny and quality of lives of its citizens.

Yes, it would involve a huge national debate, and we'd probably have to pass a law saying that land compulsorily purchased would have to be frozen at the price it would have been before the location was announced.

We'd probably end up with a Citizens' Assembly proposing a referendum to choose between two or three locations.

Perhaps we even need an imaginative name to underline its ambition.

Collins City? New Tara? Or how about a gesture to the future: Carson City?

This would be our equivalent of the moon landing. And it would radically improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people both in and outside Dublin.

To paraphrase President John F Kennedy: I believe that we should commit this nation to the goal of sending a Taoiseach to the midlands every week, and to returning him safely back to Dublin.

Of course, all this assumes that the people of the midlands actually want to have the capital. It's all well and good saying that Dublin gets everything but wait till the country starts giving out yards about all those bowsies up in Athlone feathering their pockets and lining their nests.

Meanwhile, at Newlands Cross, a giant sign will appear, declaring: "Don't blame us: we don't run the place any more."

Irish Independent