Are we going to allow the markets to decide everything?
I CAN’T tell whether last week was a good one or a bad one for rural Ireland. On the face of it, it’s been bad.
First Eir pulled out of the tendering process for the roll-out of broadband to rural areas, leaving one bidder in the chase.
Then we read that the last of the railway lines weaving their way through the less connected corners of the country could go the way of the Limerick to Tralee line, the West Clare Railway, the Galway to Clifden line, the Westport to Achill connection and all the rail services in Donegal.
To top it all off, we had the publication of the draft National Planning Framework: Ireland 2040 Our Plan, a major national document that seems to believe that rural Ireland will be saved by urbanisation.
The withdrawal by Eir is a shame and has not only undermined the tendering process for rural broadband — it has potentially removed the best player from the pitch.
I couldn’t believe my ears listening to Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten, on the radio telling us how lucky we are to have only one bidder left at the auction; the only person ever to relish that kind of a prospect was the farmer going to the fair who couldn’t wait to rid himself of his stock, handle the cash and perch himself on the nearest high stool.
In recent months I’ve had occasion to deal with Eir. I had a new landline installed and soon after got fibre optic broadband thanks to Open Eir. The broadband is a dream; I have as good a service as anyone in the country.
There were some teething problems at the beginning, which would have been impossible to manage were it not for local human beings who work with Eir and were able to sort things out.
This was the secret and it always has been the secret of good public service.
Even though cutbacks have followed since Eir was privatised by Mary O’Rourke and Bertie, there is still a strong residue of public service in its staff, but that too is being drained by cutbacks and siphoning.
Eir’s predecessor Eircom was fattened for sale before it was gonged by O’Rourke as she tolled the bell of its demise announcing it’s flotation on the New York Stock Exchange in 1999. Those with shares will remember well how the dingy sank like a stone soon afterwards. It has been a sad tale of plunder and resale since.
Our rail service would also be in the hands of skull and bones privateers were it not so impossible to fatten it for sale. In these days, as we seek to free ourselves of the tyranny of private motor vehicles and their ruinous impact on the planet, the railways could have been a veritable life-saver.
Even if the infrastructure had been left in place, we could be in a much better position to address our transport needs and our emissions targets in tandem. It is instructive to view contrasting maps of the railway system of Ireland as it was in 1920 and as it is today.
Produced in a joint paper published by IBEC and its Northern counterpart CBI in 2016, the maps show how the railway service reached every corner of the country in the early 20th century and that now the opposite is the case with the north west being particularly badly served. And just when we thought things couldn’t get worse it appeared like the service could be further downgraded.
Meanwhile, we are facing the prospects of massive fines for exceeding our emissions targets and the world is scrambling to find an alternative to fossil fuel cars.
Last week also saw the publication of the draft National Planning Framework: Ireland 2040 Our Plan. I read it with an open mind until I came to the following paragraph: “Practical experience and research shows that in an economy and society such as Ireland’s, simultaneously fostering economic growth on the one hand and spreading it out smoothly or evenly across a country, is neither realistic nor practical. Nor can large numbers of people be directed to selected locations.”
The only image that comes to mind is Neville Chamberlain waving his white note on his return from Munich.
I continued to read but almost lost the will to live as I waded through a treacle of meaningless verbiage such as:
“However, it is possible to facilitate more inclusive and integrated growth more broadly, throughout Ireland, that would have the