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Population growth shines a light on future challenges



Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe at the announcement of the Dublin Metro. Photo: Julien Behal Photography

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe at the announcement of the Dublin Metro. Photo: Julien Behal Photography

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe at the announcement of the Dublin Metro. Photo: Julien Behal Photography

A few weeks ago, we learned that our population had reached 5.1 million. This, we were told, was the highest since the Famine, when the 1851 census recorded 5.11 million.

Remarkable progress means our country is, thankfully, unrecognisable from what it was. National and economic independence have been achieved. Yet despite our great leap forward, problems surrounding property ownership and “congested districts” are a recurring theme.

Those in the Land League who struggled to fight for the “three Fs” – fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale – would marvel that we could have brought the roof down on our own heads.

The housing shortage and the hardship it is causing are hitting all age groups.

Latest figures from the Economic and Social Research Institute ( ESRI) highlight the difficulties older people will face in ever owning a home. One in five people over 45 now rents. They will have scant hope of ever owning a place.

They will also find themselves facing considerably harder times than current pensioners as they struggle to pay soaring accommodation costs.

The Government is making progress in delivering homes, but no one pretends it can deliver the numbers needed for the provision of affordable housing.

The notion of having the key to your own front door is hard-wired into the national psyche. If this is now beyond the ambitions and incomes of so many, there is a heavy onus on the Government to make sure there are enough homes available for rent within income limits.

The fate of a government is generally determined by how it handles the most contentious issue of the time, so either the coalition defines the housing crisis or the crisis will define it.

A growing population is a hugely positive thing, but much depends on how we plan for the future and meet the objectives we set.

Housing and transport are vital to attracting essential investment and securing jobs.

There ought to be no limits on what we can achieve, other than the ones we impose ourselves, but hitting our targets is critical, and in this regard there are grounds for concern.

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Poor management of major state projects means they too often come in overdue and over-budget. The plans for the long-delayed Dublin Metro have just been unveiled. A rapid rail line to a major airport is a prerequisite for any dynamic modern city, yet the costings look alarmingly vague.

An estimate of €9.5bn was the midpoint of a “credible” cost range of between €7.16bn and €12.25bn, but Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has revealed there is an “extreme case” scenario for the total rising to €23bn. No private company could ever accept such a divergence in costings.

State spending is the hard-earned income of the taxpayer. Getting best value is the best way to show they are valued. Leadership is not just about being in charge, it is about taking care of those in your charge. Having somewhere to live and being able to retire on a pension is fundamental to this.

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