Ireland 2040: a new beginning
Ireland will be a different place in 2040 than it is today, just as it was very different 20 years ago. The National Planning Framework and Ten-Year Capital Plan, announced to such fanfare last week, is a reasonable attempt by the Government to anticipate what that Ireland will be like and to prepare for it accordingly.
While the plan is of necessity evidence-based, it is set against events as yet unknown, and inevitably, also rooted in certain assumptions and predictions which may not turn out to be entirely accurate. When we look back to 1998, who could have predicted a boom of the nature of the Celtic Tiger and a bust as ruinous as the subsequent lost decade?
One outcome seems likely by 2040, however: the history of economic cycles dictate that there will be another downturn, indeed a recession within that period, perhaps sooner rather than later if the worst outcomes of Brexit are realised.
In the immediate aftermath of the publication of this plan, questions have been raised in relation to its implementation. The issue of delivery is key and in many ways that was an appropriate if predictable response. The road to a better future is littered with such reports or versions of them in the past.
However, within the context of the overall challenges Ireland faces over the next 20 years, another question must be asked: is the plan actually ambitious enough?
The headline figures are certainly eye-catching: the expenditure of €116bn in a 20-year period is considerable; the more notable features in the plan, such as road and rail projects and intentions to build certain numbers of hospitals, schools and residential housing is pleasing to the public consciousness. An attempt is also to be made to resolve the age-old imbalance of urban and rural living - perhaps too great an attempt? To an extent, the plan is also a repackaging of projects already announced, and also represents catch-up in terms of underinvestment in that lost decade.
Undoubtedly, the urban planners and officials with various government departments will tell us that the proposed developments are well thought out and according to demographic requirements in the decades ahead. Insofar as it goes, that is to be welcomed, and this newspaper broadly welcomes the general thrust and intention of the plan.
But yet there is a feeling that the plan lacks boldness in the scope of its vision. There are those who will welcome that. Too often in the past have there been bold visions accompanied by a lack of authority and finance to implement such visions.
On this occasion, and for the first time, planning and investment have been linked and this too is to be welcomed, as is the sizeable package to tackle climate change.
Indeed, there is little in the plan to be quibbled with, save this: Where is the vision to make Dublin one of the great cities of Europe, indeed the world? By which we mean cultured, cosmopolitan, diverse in some parts, also dynamic, innovative, experimental in others and efficient and focused in yet more.
When we say Dublin, we mean the greater Dublin area which also includes vast swathes of Leinster that would call the M50 Ireland's main street.
The plan is to be welcomed as a new beginning, and must be implemented in a timely fashion. However, it should also be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure that Ireland not only meets the changing nature of the challenges that will arise, but to get ahead of those challenges to create a country even more worthy of a modern, well-educated, creative and ambitious people.